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Practical Magic

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Practical Magic

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman
Director: Griffin Dunne
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing, Aidan Quinn, Goran Visnjic, Evan Rachel Wood, Chloe Webb

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Remember that song from Pal Joey, "I'm wild again/ Beguiled again/ A whimpering, simpering child again, / Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I"? Director Griffin Dunne probably does and so do the scripters of his movie "Practical Magic," but in ways they may not entirely relish. The lead performers are bewitched, but the audience are just bothered and bewildered. "Practical Magic," adapted by Robin Swicord from a novel by Alice Hoffman, is a Halloween movie with amorous themes but is such a hodgepodge that it serves as neither an effective, Charles-Addams-style spoof of the supernatural genre nor a convincing romantic comedy. The story centers on a family of witches who have difficulties both in falling in love and in keeping the objects of their affection happy or even alive. What emerges is a vehicle for the talents of Sandra Bullock as the quieter witch and Nicole Kidman as her more aggressive sister in a film that will probably be called by detractors and supporters alike a "chick flick." While men play a role, two are portrayed in cartoonishly undeveloped ways: a simpleton and a homicidal maniac are the caricatures while a third, an earnest detective, is found to have unexplained and similarly underdeveloped mystical authority of his own.

The story opens in a promising way, as a group of Puritans gather around the figure of a 17th century woman on the gallows about to be hanged as a witch. She magically escapes the perils of the rope, but when her lover fails to meet her as promised, she pronounces a curse on all males who enter into the romantic circle of the family for generations to come. Two twentieth century progeny, Aunt Jet (Dianne Wiest) and Aunt Frances (Stockard Channing) are intent on passing the gift of practical magic to their nieces, Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) and Sally's sister Gillian (Nicole Kidman). The devil-may-care Gillian embraces the incantations while Sally rejects the prerogatives fearing that she will never meet the man of her dreams. Gillian, basking in her pull over men, embraces an evil drifter, Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), who turns out to be a homicidal woman-beater and whose domineering behavior leads to a fearful crime bringing in police detective Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn).

Blandly portraying the abuse the women take from the townspeople who rightly suspect them of being different from them (i.e. witches), director Dunne attempts to infuse the story with comic moments which simply fall flat. A regular meeting of the women who are provincial enough to feel great excitement over their place on a figurative tree is prosaic, while a concluding scene featuring a band of women dressed in the black Halloween garb of sorcerers floating from the rooftop to the earth is unimaginative. The exorcism spectacle, in which a company of the town's women cast their spells on the writhing Gillian to wrest a dead man's spirit from her body puts the special effects team to work with little consequence. Nor do we thrill to see the ghostly body of the corpse complete with vampiric contact lenses, an image that filmmakers persist in using in movies about the bloodsuckers.

Sandra Bullock has a fan club but in my mind is neither particularly appealing nor a great performer. She is outclassed by the more fiery and alluring Nicole Kidman but their roles in this film are so foolish and ineffectual that they'll have to use quite a bit more practical magic to enchant an audience.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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