Friday October 20, 2000
Selling your soul to the devil is not just a figure of speech, it happens in the movie business all the time. In fact, it seems to have happened with "Bedazzled," a film about just such a transaction.
Inspired by the original "Bedazzled," a modern-day Faust story starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, directed by Stanley Donen and one of the wittiest films of the 1960s, the new version does have its virtues: After all, when you barter your soul, you definitely get something in return. But the trade-off, as per usual, is awfully steep.
The best thing about the current "Bedazzled" is its perfectly cast stars: Elizabeth Hurley as the tart-tongued devil and especially Brendan Fraser as the kind of "lovesick, lonely, desperate" guy who would seriously consider such a trade. These roles are the equivalent of a fat pitch across the heart of the plate, and neither actor has any difficulty connecting.
But as written by Larry Gelbart, director Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan, this "Bedazzled," though amusing from moment to moment, is erratic, unfocused and uncertain where it's going. And whenever it gets too insecure about itself, the film falls back, in classic the-devil-made-me-do-it Hollywood fashion, on explosions, gunfights, helicopter stunts, car crashes and computer-generated effects. What should be a drawing-room comedy ends with moments best left to "Gone in 60 Seconds."
"Bedazzled" is strong in its setup, with a witty introduction of Fraser's Elliot Richards and his meeting with the Queen of Darkness. Elliot works as a technical support person for computer manufacturer Synedyne, and he has no visible competition for the role of company pariah, the man everyone is desperate to avoid.
A pathetic irritant who bores people way past tears, Elliot's only sympathetic trait is his crush on beautiful co-worker Alison (Frances O'Connor of "Mansfield Park" and the delightful "Love and Other Catastrophes"), who is of course barely aware of his existence. "Dear God," Elliot says passionately, "I would give anything to have that girl in my life."
This is all the devil (energetically played by Hurley), who almost always wears something red and provocative, needs to hear. A very modern malefactor who has a license plate reading "Bad 1," runs an after-hours club called DV8 and has "offices in Purgatory, Hell and Los Angeles," the devil offers Elliot the chance to reinvent himself and advises him the soul is "like your appendix: You'll never miss it."
Naturally, he agrees to the trade: seven wishes in exchange for his spiritual essence.
After this diverting setup, "Bedazzled" turns into a series of skits, with Elliot thinking up identities he would like to try on (all involving a relationship with Alison) and the devil, being deviousness incarnate, amusing herself by finding loopholes that turn his fantasies into awful nightmares.
One of those actors who thrives on throwing himself into goofy scenarios, Fraser turns "Bedazzled" into a successful one-man comedy review, relishing his opportunity to play everything from a Colombian drug lord to the dominant player in the National Basketball Assn. It is a treat to see the actor in this series of bizarre characterizations, and if the picture were only about how consistently amusing his different impersonations are, it would be a lot easier to endorse.
But funny as Fraser is, he can't eliminate those extraneous stunts and special effects, he can't turn a series of scenes into a coherent whole, and he can't steer the film away from its sappy, programmatic ending. If those were the concessions the devil extracted for Fraser's enjoyable performance, the evil one is a tougher bargainer than anyone imagined.
Bedazzled, 2000. PG-13, for sex-related humor, language and some drug content. Regency Enterprises presents a Trevor Albert production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Harold Ramis. Producers Trevor Albert & Harold Ramis. Executive producer Neil Machlis. Screenplay Larry Gelbart and Harold Ramis & Peter Tolan. Cinematographer Bill Pope. Editor Craig P. Herring. Costumes Deena Appel. Music David Newman. Production design Rich Heinrichs. Art director John Dexter. Set decorator Garrett Lewis. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Brendan Fraser as Elliot. Elizabeth Hurley as The Devil. Frances O'Connor as Alison.