"Bedazzled" should have been a corker of a movie. A loose remake of the
well-regarded 1967 comedy written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley
Moore, the story of a love struck loser who sells his soul in exchange for
seven wishes is serviceable enough. Leading man Brendan Fraser has a good
track record with comedy and Elizabeth Hurley certainly has the physical
assets necessary to make a sultry Devil. As if all that wasn't enough, the
director of the production is Harold Ramis, the man behind "Caddyshack,"
"Groundhog Day" and "Analyze This."
"Bedazzled" should have been a corker, but the results are only moderately
amusing. Fraser is overly cartoonish, as are most of the supporting players,
and the love story is too superficial to be involving. Overall, the film
plays like an expensive episode of a TV sketch comedy series.
The problems begin with a sloppy script by Larry Gelbart ("M*A*S*H"), Ramis
and Peter Tolan. Their story revolves around Elliot Richards (Fraser), a
computer tech-support worker with godawful social skills. Mocked and shunned
by his co-workers, Elliot pines for Alison (Frances O'Connor), a beautiful
fellow employee he has worshipped from afar. After blowing an encounter with
her at a nightspot, he says aloud that he would "give anything" to have the
Enter Lucifer, in the form of Elizabeth Hurley. In exchange for his soul,
she offers him seven wishes. Elliot leaps at the chance, only to discover
that Beelzebub has no intentions of giving him a smooth ride. Elliot wishes
he was rich, powerful and married to Alison. In a flash, he gets his wish,
only to learn that he is a rich, powerful Colombian drug lord with enemies
everywhere. Alison is indeed his wife, but she detests him.
And so goes the game, as Elliot keeps trying to make the perfect wish, while
Satan continues to find some flaw in his wording that will allow her to make
his life a nightmare.
This type of story has been done a million times, but even the most worn
idea can work if the writers are sufficiently inventive. In "Groundhog Day,"
Ramis took a similar set-up, which gave the hero multiple chances to win the
heart of a woman, and crafted a comedy that was as sweet and touching as it
was funny. He did so by allowing his protagonist to grow from a one-note
wiseass into a rounded human being and by allowing the romance to grow from
superficial attraction to something far more substantial.
Don't look for any growth here. Elliot remains a buffoon throughout the
film, until the closing moments, when Ramis and company whack him upside the
head with an unconvincing epiphany. In the romance department, don't expect
anything deeper than "I want her. Let's cast another spell."
There was a moral to "Groundhog Day," one that was appreciated because we
saw it lived out on the screen. The moral in "Bedazzled" is so slapped on
that the filmmakers actually feel the need to have a character state it
As for the comedy, where "Groundhog Day" moved from physical shtick to
subtler humor, "Bedazzled" sticks with slapstick and sight gags. The story
trudges from one sketch to another, a la "Saturday Night Live," with varying
degrees of success. Expect everything from dick jokes to a short, but sweet
Abe Lincoln routine. The worst is a dated Dennis Rodman bit, while the best
is a cute piece of business, nicked from the original film, involving Satan
and a row of parking meters.
The lead actors add to the film's troubles. As Elliot the nerd, Brendan
Fraser overplays his part. In the "Superman" movies, Christopher Reeve made
a great Man of Steel, but a lousy Clark Kent, burying his character in a
load of facial twitches and excessive stammering. Fraser does the same
thing, turning Elliot from an insecure guy to a grating dork caricature. As
with Reeve, Fraser fails to realize that, when it comes to self-conscious
males, less is more.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hurley is content to coo her way through the film,
changing costumes frequently, to the delight of the guys in the row behind
me. While most of her outfits are red designer devil wear, her sexiest
moment comes during a classroom scene, where she sports the adult version of
the classic Catholic schoolgirl outfit. Hurley's acting is competent at
best, though she does get to coolly informs Elliot, "Yes, there's a God and,
yes, he's a man. Most men think they're God - this one just happens to be
Despite the occasionally solid one-liners, Hurley's performance lacks bite,
which is the main failing of "Bedazzled." If talented filmmakers take on
themes as familiar as this, it should be because they have designed a
bracing new approach to the material. When they put their own movie on
cruise control, you wonder why they bothered with the project at all. Or
more to the point, why should we?
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott