Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

The devil is in the details

Remake of ‘Bedazzled’ is sinfully predictable

October 19, 2000


The 1967 comedy "Bedazzled" was a showcase for Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, who were then emerging as two of Britain's most popular comedy exports. A very '60s satire on the Faust legend, it has become something of a cult classic in the 33 years since its initial release. So why remake it? Updating the story is not an inherently bad idea, but doing so would require a lot more thought than was evidently put into this latest version.

Brendan Fraser plays Elliott Richards, a socially inept goofball who hangs out with "friends" who can't stand him and pines after a co-worker (Frances O'Connor) who doesn't know he exists. Frustrated with his increasingly pathetic life, Elliott blurts out that he would "give anything" to have the woman of his dreams.

Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley strike a devilish deal in the
comedy update of "Bedazzled."

Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley strike a devilish deal in the comedy update of "Bedazzled."

Cue the Devil, played by slinky model Elizabeth Hurley, who offers him seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Of course, the wishes don't turn out the way Elliott intended (a wish for wealth turns him into a drug dealer, a wish for sensitivity turns him into a blubbering idiot, and so on). It takes him ages to figure out what was obvious to the audience in the first five minutes: You can't win a game with Satan, so you may as well just get your act together on your own.

Director and co-screenwriter Harold Ramis has made a career out of releasing light, entertaining films whose success rests almost entirely on the actors involved. (Imagine "Analyze This" without Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro or "Ghostbusters" without Bill Murray, if that's even possible.) Ramis gets half the equation right this time, using Fraser's remarkable combination of leading-man good looks and comic versatility, especially in the wish sequences, which require him to play everything from a sophisticated writer to a brain-dead basketball star. Fraser has never been afraid to make a fool of himself on-screen (he was George of the Jungle, after all), but in "Bedazzled," he balances that silliness with just enough sadness to make the audience sympathize with Elliott as well as laugh at him.

Unfortunately, Hurley can't quite live up to her co-star's standards. Sure, she's sexy and looks great in the 50 or so outfits she prances around in, and she is certainly more expressive than your average model-turned-actress. Her performance is incredibly mannered, however, and she has an annoying habit of over-enunciating every word, as if she'd just come from el-o-cu-tion lessons and wanted to show off what she'd learned. She never comes off as particularly seductive, and her antics are more mischievous than menacing (even when she tries to parade her "evil" side). While Fraser disappears into his many characters, Hurley basically plays herself throughout and is never totally convincing.

ReviewRating: **(PG-13)

The film's other screenwriters, Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan, are both Emmy-winning TV veterans (Gelbart for "M*A*S*H," Tolan for "Murphy Brown" and "The Larry Sanders Show"). In "Bedazzled," they once again display a knack for writing snappy one-liners and creating quirky characters, but the depth and inventiveness they brought to their television work is nowhere to be found. It's ALL one-liners and quirky characters, and Ramis has nothing else to contribute, either. There is a half-hearted attempt at a moral at the end, but it's as toothless as everything else in the movie, and the ending can either be seen as sweetly romantic or a total cop-out, depending on how easy you are to please.

Fraser can only do so much to elevate the material, and he's the real reason to see this movie it's too bad his performance couldn't be in something that would garner him more attention. Otherwise, "Bedazzled" is fluffy, meaningless entertainment that can best be described as soul-less.

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