Friday, November 3, 2000

Bedazzled / *** (2000)

“Bedazzled” is a comedy about an ordinary single working male whose life is turned into a three-ring circus when he is given the opportunity to make seven—not three, but seven!—of his wishes come true. The catch? His soul will belong to the devil for an eternity as a result. In this case, the Prince of Darkness is given a new twist as a tall and luminous brunette, whose all-red wardrobe is seductive and chic, but isn’t nearly enough to convince an entire movie audience (much less the main character) the extent of her potential. Yet in a movie where diverse comedic exploits are executed so well and so vividly, does it matter that the villain lacks personality and comes off as a stale imitation of something much greater? Not really, and we can thank the off-the-wall, energetic protagonist because of this.

The man is Elliot, and is played by Brendan Fraser (who is right away the ideal choice because of his experience in movies like “George Of The Jungle”). Elliot for the past few years has had an infatuation with an attractive blond co-worker named Allison (Frances O’Connor), but when she fails to recognize him after he runs into her at a local bar, he figures his chances with her are slim to zilch. But soon after, a dashing rogue in tight red clothes pops into his life (Elizabeth Hurley), with a promise that he can have seven wishes of any choice, just as long as his soul is handed over to her in return.

Her coercing characterization prompts Elliot to go for the big stuff (so to speak), so his first wish is to be the richest man in the world (while being married to Allison, of course). That seemingly innocent desire is intensified, however, when Lucifer herself turns Eliot into a powerful Colombian drug lord with a cheating wife and assistants who have a plot to take down his empire. Those kinds of plights are the repeating gags of the picture, as Elliot wishes himself into new enterprises, but every time faces some kind of deficiency that alters his happy little world. At one point he is the best athlete in the world but is mulled down by a sexual problem; at another he becomes the wisest man on Earth but winds up chasing away all the women with his overly-sophisticated conversational tone.

This is the kind of movie that grins at you when you’re dead certain nothing else can be done with the concept; it consistently builds on its own substratum with new exciting approaches at intellectual (or even physical) humor, and just when we think we’ve seen everything offered, gears get cranked up and everything keeps going. Fraser is a better actor when he’s in drama-oriented movies (“Gods And Monsters,” for example), but does a remarkable job with Elliot here, using his familiar but delectable comedic charm to shape the character into someone who is charming, naive and dimwitted all at the same time. The movie was written by Harold Ramis, ironically, who also did “Analyze This,” a film which I despised beyond comprehension, and though several colleagues and moviegoers even suggest comparisons between the two, I do not. Such an action is like comparing diamonds to rhinestones.

Unfortunately, this little gem, once under a microscope, has a couple of flaws. Though the chemistry between good guy and bad girl is very intense and well-established here, Elizabeth Hurley is too sweet and innocent to seem justified as an appropriate cast in the Satan role. She strikes little sense of concern in the audience, as devilish roles like these should (to an extent), and when she talks to Elliot, she seems more like a sexpot merely assuming the role as the root of evil because the real devil is away on vacation. Hurley might have been better in the Allison role (not that O’Connor doesn’t do well in it already). Then there’s the issue of the running time: why is this movie so dang abrupt? “Bedazzled” contains enough comic ingenuity to easily occupy the space of at least two hours. At 93 minutes, the film feels like it has been cut shorter than it needs to be.

I usually find little to praise on these grounds because comedies like these live squarely off of the resources of their villains, but so is not the case with “Bedazzled.” The movie is a riot. And because I was so consumed by its effective comedic tone, I didn’t find the problems as that big of a nuisance to the overall product. Like “Keeping The Faith,” here is a movie that literally throws us into a sea of comedic genius, and makes few mistakes in the process.

*Note: “Bedazzled” is actually a remake of a 1968 comedy starring Dudley Moore, which in its own right is a very engaging comedy that should be seen as a companion piece to this picture.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Comedy (US); 2000; Rated PG-13; 93 Minutes

Brendan Fraser: Elliot
Elizabeth Hurley: The Devil
Frances O'Connor: Allison
Orlando Jones: Dan

Produced by Trevor Albert, Suzanne Herrington, Neil A. Machlis and Harold Ramis; Directed by Harold Ramis; Screenwritten by Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan; based on the story by Peter Cook

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