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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie review
3.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review ---
4.  Dustin Putman read the review movie review
5.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Dabbling is dangerous. Sally and Gillian Owens, played charmingly by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, were trained as witches when they were young, but they've never been serious practitioners. When their lovers start dying on them, they turn to the book of magic for help with disastrous results.

Director Griffin Dunne's PRACTICAL MAGIC, which isn't as whimsical as the material warrants, starts during the time of the Salem witch trials as an Owens woman is being hung. She escapes that ordeal, but then her lover abandons her while she is carrying his child. In retaliation, she puts a curse on any man who ever dares to love an Owens woman again, and it works forever after.

The film, which has a long series of missed opportunities, starts slowly and has trouble building any sustainable momentum. When Dunne brings in a few significant doses of the supernatural in the last part, the movie finally begins to find its legs.

Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing play Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances, the quirky relatives who raised Sally and Gillian. The parts of the aunts are the least well developed in the generally unpolished script by Robin Swicord, based on Alice Hoffman's novel.

Sally and Gillian are as different as sisters can be while still bound by love and witchcraft. Sally is happily domestic. She lives on a picture-book island and has a handsome husband and two delightful girls. Gillian, in contrast, has a string of lovers and lives life totally on the wild side. She describes her current and abusive boyfriend as a vampire-cowboy type.

Aidan Quinn steals the picture as an out of state detective investigating some mysterious activities. His likable character provides a good-hearted spark that enlivens the film's second half. A romantic angle with him and one of the sisters is less satisfying. As in the rest of the movie, the director sets up the romance but keeps pulling it back, never quite letting it ignite as it should.

The story works best when it unabashedly follows its offbeat roots. The spoon in Sally's cup keeps on stirring, for example, whether her hand is on the spoon or not. More of these cute little touches would have helped, as would more of the film's black comedy aspects. As delivered, the film moves in fits and spurts, never quite taking off, yet providing some bits of solid entertainment along the way.

The movie does suggest some fascinating possibilities for the parent calling chain at school. But the PTA would most certainly not approve.

PRACTICAL MAGIC runs 1:43. It is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, violence and sensuality and would be fine for kids around 10 and up.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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