A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in keeping with the period setting, characters smoke and drink a great deal, including drinking to numb emotional pain and drinking to excess. There are sexual references, including adultery and a character who makes it clear that she sleeps around and offers herself to C.W., but there are no explicit sexual situations. Characters discuss C.W.'s old-fashioned sexism and Betty Ann's difficulties in being accepted as a professional woman.
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What's the story?
Set in the 1940s, CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION centers on insurance investigator C.W. Briggs (Woody Allen), an old-fashioned guy who likes things the way they are, which means solving crimes through tips and hunches. When the boss, Mr. Magruder (Dan Ackroyd) hires efficiency expert, Betty Ann (Helen Hunt), C.W. and Betty Ann despise each other on sight. But then, at a colleague's birthday celebration in a nightclub, they are both hypnotized by Voltan the magician, who has them believing that they are deeply in love. That ends when the trance is over, but Voltan's post-hypnotic directions have C.W. and Betty Ann obeying his commands. Voltan calls C.W., says the magic word, and C.W., in a trance, goes off to steal the jewels his firm's clients and. Criminal and romantic mix-ups follow as C.W. and Betty Ann run into each other in all kinds of compromising positions and discover that even the most skilled hypnotist cannot make someone do or feel anything unless there is some basis in reality.
Is it any good?
Woody Allen pays loving tribute to noir movies like Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep with this delicious comedy for grown-ups. This is the lightest of light comedies, silly but sophisticated. It's unapologetically pitched at people old enough to understand a reference to Mussolini and appreciate Charlize Theron's dead-on take on spoiled rich femme fatales played by Lauren Bacall and Gail Patrick. Allen's quirky casting (starting with himself as the leading man) may not work for some audiences, but it can be fun to watch. Hunt is particularly fine as a woman who is not as sure of herself and her choices as she would like to be.
This story is reminiscent of Allen's segment in New York Stories, in which a magician makes Allen's character's secret desire come true by making his smothering mother disappear, but then she appears as a looming image in the sky and everyone in Manhattan can hear her noodging. In this movie, we again have a magician creating some real magic with unexpected romantic consequences. Possibly, Allen is trying to say something about connections between love and magic, guilt and freedom, or heart and brain.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they might do – and what they would not do – if they were hypnotized. Betty Ann trusts both Magruder and C.W., one rightly and one wrongly. How does she decide whom to trust and how does she deal with the consequences of her choices? Is there anyone you would trust despite all appearances? Is there anyone who would trust you? What would be different if the movie were set in 2001?
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