It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" takes place in an insurance office not unlike the one in "Double Indemnity," where the very woodwork and the reassuring bulk of the filing cabinets seem to guarantee the company's solidity. But after the company's fraud investigator and its efficiency expert are hypnotized by a nightclub charlatan, none of the company's clients are safe.
In "Double Indemnity," Billy Wilder's classic noir, Fred MacMurray was an investigator who betrayed his company after a slinky seductress (Barbara Stanwyck) lured him into a scheme to murder her husband for profit. The comic angle in Allen's approach is that CW Briggs, the investigator (Allen himself), is an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, and the slinky sex bomb Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) is his arch-enemy (although that doesn't discourage him from asking her out).
When "Fitz" has her wits about her, she describes CW with an impressive array of insults ("mealy-mouthed little creep," "inch-worm," "snoopy little termite," "squirming little trapped rat"). They hate each other. "I love where you live," she tells him. "A grimy little rat hole. I find it strangely exciting standing here in a grungy hovel with a myopic insurance investigator." Then the hypnotic trigger is pulled, and they think they're in love.
To this inspiration Allen adds another; they have separate cue-words, so that one can be under the hypnotic spell while the other isn't. And then he surrounds them with dependable comic types. Dan Aykroyd is Magruder, the cost-cutting boss who has brought in Fitz. Elizabeth Berkley is Jill, the curvy secretary he's having an affair with. And Charlize Theron is Laura Kensington, a rich kid who is attracted to CW when she catches him in mid-theft, but is helpless in the face of the hypnotic depth bomb.