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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bedazzled

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley
Director: Harold Ramis
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Toby Huss

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

"Bedazzled" should have been a corker of a movie. A loose remake of the well-regarded 1967 comedy written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the story of a love struck loser who sells his soul in exchange for seven wishes is serviceable enough. Leading man Brendan Fraser has a good track record with comedy and Elizabeth Hurley certainly has the physical assets necessary to make a sultry Devil. As if all that wasn't enough, the director of the production is Harold Ramis, the man behind "Caddyshack," "Groundhog Day" and "Analyze This."

"Bedazzled" should have been a corker, but the results are only moderately amusing. Fraser is overly cartoonish, as are most of the supporting players, and the love story is too superficial to be involving. Overall, the film plays like an expensive episode of a TV sketch comedy series.

The problems begin with a sloppy script by Larry Gelbart ("M*A*S*H"), Ramis and Peter Tolan. Their story revolves around Elliot Richards (Fraser), a computer tech-support worker with godawful social skills. Mocked and shunned by his co-workers, Elliot pines for Alison (Frances O'Connor), a beautiful fellow employee he has worshipped from afar. After blowing an encounter with her at a nightspot, he says aloud that he would "give anything" to have the woman.

Enter Lucifer, in the form of Elizabeth Hurley. In exchange for his soul, she offers him seven wishes. Elliot leaps at the chance, only to discover that Beelzebub has no intentions of giving him a smooth ride. Elliot wishes he was rich, powerful and married to Alison. In a flash, he gets his wish, only to learn that he is a rich, powerful Colombian drug lord with enemies everywhere. Alison is indeed his wife, but she detests him.

And so goes the game, as Elliot keeps trying to make the perfect wish, while Satan continues to find some flaw in his wording that will allow her to make his life a nightmare.

This type of story has been done a million times, but even the most worn idea can work if the writers are sufficiently inventive. In "Groundhog Day," Ramis took a similar set-up, which gave the hero multiple chances to win the heart of a woman, and crafted a comedy that was as sweet and touching as it was funny. He did so by allowing his protagonist to grow from a one-note wiseass into a rounded human being and by allowing the romance to grow from superficial attraction to something far more substantial.

Don't look for any growth here. Elliot remains a buffoon throughout the film, until the closing moments, when Ramis and company whack him upside the head with an unconvincing epiphany. In the romance department, don't expect anything deeper than "I want her. Let's cast another spell."

There was a moral to "Groundhog Day," one that was appreciated because we saw it lived out on the screen. The moral in "Bedazzled" is so slapped on that the filmmakers actually feel the need to have a character state it aloud.

As for the comedy, where "Groundhog Day" moved from physical shtick to subtler humor, "Bedazzled" sticks with slapstick and sight gags. The story trudges from one sketch to another, a la "Saturday Night Live," with varying degrees of success. Expect everything from dick jokes to a short, but sweet Abe Lincoln routine. The worst is a dated Dennis Rodman bit, while the best is a cute piece of business, nicked from the original film, involving Satan and a row of parking meters.

The lead actors add to the film's troubles. As Elliot the nerd, Brendan Fraser overplays his part. In the "Superman" movies, Christopher Reeve made a great Man of Steel, but a lousy Clark Kent, burying his character in a load of facial twitches and excessive stammering. Fraser does the same thing, turning Elliot from an insecure guy to a grating dork caricature. As with Reeve, Fraser fails to realize that, when it comes to self-conscious males, less is more.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hurley is content to coo her way through the film, changing costumes frequently, to the delight of the guys in the row behind me. While most of her outfits are red designer devil wear, her sexiest moment comes during a classroom scene, where she sports the adult version of the classic Catholic schoolgirl outfit. Hurley's acting is competent at best, though she does get to coolly informs Elliot, "Yes, there's a God and, yes, he's a man. Most men think they're God - this one just happens to be right."

Despite the occasionally solid one-liners, Hurley's performance lacks bite, which is the main failing of "Bedazzled." If talented filmmakers take on themes as familiar as this, it should be because they have designed a bracing new approach to the material. When they put their own movie on cruise control, you wonder why they bothered with the project at all. Or more to the point, why should we?

Copyright 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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