1940s New York, and a bottom-rung insurance investigator's seedy world goes skewwhiff under the influence of a go-getting female colleague and a crooked hypnotist.
Finally emerging from protracted contractual snarls, Woody Allen's tribute to the B-movies of his youth lacks the fizz of even the most inspiration-strapped programmer.
Yet had the story been peppered with hard-boiled quips and rod-packing palookas, it would still have short-changed on the comedy front. There's so much plot to squeeze in that Allen is reduced to relying for laughs on the insults he exchanges with Helen Hunt's efficiency expert.
But it's hardly Bogart and Bacall. Allen's weaselly gumshoe is more akin to Elisha Cook than Marlowe or Sam Spade. Yet, there are some neat touches. Zhao Fei's loving lensing of Santo Loquasto's exquisite period sets lends a touch of class, while David Ogden Stiers captures the urbane arrogance of the second-feature villain as he hisses "Madagascar" and "Constantinople" to compel his unsuspecting victims to do his bidding. But more might have been made of Dan Aykroyd's adulterous boss and Charlize Theron's femme fatale. It's fun. But we've come to expect more.
Glowing with nostalgic good humour, this is among the weakest of Allen's many movie hommages.