Directed by Woody Allen, starring Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Dan Aykroyd, David Ogden Stiers, Brian Markinson and Wallace Shawn.

Woody Allen returns to his favourite era for his latest - a 1940s detective/love story. He plays insurance investigator CW Briggs, a man who is having a big problem with "efficiency expert" Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), the woman who has been hired to streamline the firm's operations. When the two are hypnotised by a club entertainer on a work night out – much to the amusement of their colleagues – they are made to act like passionate newly-weds whilst under his spell.

As it turns out, the magician has uncovered a farcical real-life attraction between the two, but things turn sinister when they begin to get night-time phone calls at home and a series of major jewel heists take place. Briggs, following his instincts, thinks the culprit is Fitzgerald; she thinks it's him.

Essentially a film noir pastiche, 'Curse…' borrows much from the genre: the women are smokey and beautiful; Allen's detective is a pessimistic loner (of course); and the surrounds dark and claustrophobic. In fact the immaculately detailed costumes and design tend to command more and more attention as the mind wanders from the meandering mystery, the solution to which is clear to the audience long before the characters figure it out.

Constant barbed banter between our unlikely lovers forms the backbone of the narrative, unfortunately it plays out more like a tamed-down verbal 'Itchy and Scratchy' episode as Hunt flings her "suspicious little inchworm" and "snoopy little termite" slurs across rooms, corridors and desks. Allen gives as good as he gets and some of the one-liners are funny, but the cartoonish quality of the interaction becomes tedious all too soon.

Hunt is solid and unmoving as Betty Ann, a woman with her own secret and a softer side behind that hard career-woman front. Allen is Allen – love him or hate him. Elizabeth Berkley ('Showgirls' and many, many episodes of TV's 'Saved By the Bell') offers a Disney-kids style shocked-facial-expression performance as the wholesome office tease. But it is Charlize Theron's wealthy femme fatale who steals the show, as she does her best Veronica Lake impression with smoke trailing upwards and hips to beat the band, dahling...

'Curse…' treads the dangerous line between spoof and tribute. It may be one for Allen fans, but even they will agree it's not his best work. Stylish, but instantly forgettable, it's a harmless escape from the action-packed wizardry on show this Christmas.

Cristín Leach