Woody Allen describes this movie as one of his failures. Am I crazy to disagree with a genius over one of his own works? Let's find out.
Now, this isn't Annie Hall by any means. This is, again, one of his zanier premises. I'd put this one closer to Sleeper than I would Manhattan (although that, too, is a stretch). Here's the beef I have with the movie first.
The first act is pretty dull. The stylized performances take a while to get used to, especially from Dan Aykroyd and Elisabeth Berkeley, but eventually they grow on you. Also, the movie is kind of dry until the inciting incident.
But once the premise is revealed --zaniness. Pure, unadulterated zaniness. If you take the movie to be a product of silliness and bizarre circumstance, you'll probably have a good time. The 1940's setting is just to get you in the mood for an old timey pulp novel, but it's kind of fun to see Woody out of his contemporary Manhattan locale. Heck, some of my favorite movies are the ones that are slightly more higher concept (Sleeper, Love and Death, Alice, Shadows and Fog). At the end of the day, this one doesn't really match up to those, but is a good time nonetheless.
The aspect that really saves this movie is Allen's interaction with Helen Hunt. I'm not a big Helen Hunt fan. Heck, I don't even have an opinion on the woman. But some of her banter is just absolutely priceless and I think she pulls it off very cooly. It's also refreshing to see Charlize Theron in such an over-the-top role. It's a heck of an idea to think that she's a comedienne. I've really jumped on board the Charlize train once I saw her on Arrested Development. But this was a very fun outing for her. Sure, it doesn't seem like playing a sexy, horny bombshell would be hard for someone like Theron, but she's got spunk to pull it off.
Yes, it's a silly movie. If you are looking for a lot of substance, you aren't going to find it here. If you are looking for a cool spoof on the pulp genre, you'll only be mildly amused. But if you want just a good time that's not going to stick with you forever, you'll probably get that with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.