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Practical Magic

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com 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



Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Beware, gentle readers, for there is a disease among us that is going unchecked. The disorder plaguing our society is called Sandra Bullock Syndrome. Victims of this nightmarish ailment spend great amounts of time whimpering while staring wistfully into the distance and periodically experience outbursts of uncontrollable lip synching and dancing to pop music oldies, generally in the company of others suffering from the same illness. Somebody please, organize a telethon now!

Sandra Bullock Syndrome, last seen in the film "Hope Floats," resurfaces in "Practical Magic," an occassionally entertaining, often silly and terribly disjointed romantic fantasy based on the book by Alice Hoffman. The story tells of sisters Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), the latest in a long line of witches. Raised in a picturesque New England town by their giddy aunts, Jet and Frances (Dianne Weist and Stockard Channing), the girls learn of the family curse: anytime an Owens woman falls in love with a man, he dies.

After losing her husband to the curse, Sally adopts a quiet, withdrawn lifestyle, while Gillian moves from one Bohemian setting to another, having fleeting affairs along the way. When a boyfriend turns abusive, Gillian calls her sister for help and the woman unintentionally kill the man. Fearing legal reprisals, they decide the only logical thing to do is raise the creep from the dead. When Officer Gary Hallet's (Aidan Quinn) investigation brings him to the Owens' house, all hell breaks loose.

Parts of "Practical Magic" work. When Nicole Kidman looks at the corpse of her boyfriend and says, "Okay Jimmy, I will get you out of this, but then we are definitely breaking up," it's impossible not to smile. Towards the end of the film, a neighborhood phone tree is used in a unique fashion that is both ingenuous and entertaining. And, as outlandishly dressed old biddies, Stockard Channing and Dianne Weist have a certain loosey-goosey appeal.

But the production has no consistent tone, shifting awkwardly from one style to another. At times an occult "Thelma and Louise," the film also tries to be a spirited comedy, a horror film, a heartfelt romance and a story of empowerment. In more skilled hands the mixture might have jelled, but here it just feels disjointed. Even more annoying are the numerous MTV moments, where pop songs swell as the action turns into mini-music videos. And, of course, there's the scene where the women joyously line dance around the room, lip synching to the oldies. Oh, the agony of Sandra Bullock Syndrome.

Examining films like this on a logical basis is generally ill-advised, but I have to wonder why, if the Owens women have been reviled by the townspeople for centuries, they didn't just pack up and move. And speaking of the townspeople, it's maddening to watch their attitudes radically shift to meet the needs of the contrived script. At times they show open fear and hatred for the women, at other times they treat them as average fellow citizens, and later, they embrace the women's witchcraft without reservation. Why? Because one of the screenplay authors also wrote "Batman and Robin," that's why.

"Practical Magic" has enough good moments to warrant a viewing on cable, or if you're on a long airplane flight, but otherwise, you'd be better served by watching virtually any episode of "Bewitched." At least there you wouldn't be subjected to the tragic results of Sandra Bullock Syndrome. Hopefully, medical science will eventually come up with a cure and talented female actors will never have to sulk, lip-sync or line dance ever again.

Copyright 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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