Bedazzled
review by Gregory Avery, 20 October 2000

For the past several years, Brendan Fraser, with his great, expressive eyes and generous smile, has been doing steady, consistent, and superlative dramatic and comedic work in films ranging from Gods and Monsters to Blast from the Past and the ill-fated, live-action  Dudley Do-Right (for which he was nonetheless perfectly cast in the title role). If director Harold Ramis' new film of Bedazzled, based on the 1967 Stanley Donen, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comedy -- and which is a hard act to follow, for starters -- doesn't turn out entirely as expected, it at least gives Fraser a chance to get off to a raring start.

He plays Elliot, a user support specialist at a computer company in San Francisco, who tries so hard to be ingratiating to his co-workers that they can't bear to be around him for long, let alone long enough to tell him to try to relax and be himself. He's tremendously busy trying be what he thinks everyone else wants him to be, so that he gives off an intense, desperate buzz that only makes people feel even more uncomfortable. Fraser gets the elements establishing Elliot's character in just the right proportions: while he may not be accessible to others, he is to the audience, and we can both recognize with amusement the type of guy he is but also sense where he's coming from with his behavior. Elliot figures that, if he works hard enough, he'll be liked, even turning rejection into some sort of experience that can be turned from a "negative" to a "positive", although the way he forces a smile and turns away with a slump in his wide shoulders is affecting.

And Elliot can't seem to get anywhere with regards to his pining for Alison (the winsome Frances O'Connor), with whom he has worked at the same company for several years: either the timing's wrong, or he can't seem to come up with the right thing to say. So, when a lovely woman in red (Elizabeth Hurley) entices him with a stare while standing by the pool table at an after-work spot, she offers him some help. One thing he should know, she says, then leans in close to his ear: "I'm the Devil."

In exchange for signing the usual contract -- "I, Elliot Richards, hereby known as The Damned..." -- she offers him seven wishes, all of which Elliot uses to finally be with Alison. This allows Fraser the chance to go through a series of what turn out to be wonderfully realized satirical character turns: a powerful drug lord (who happens to bear a passing resemblance to Antonio Banderas) with a mansion and a stable of stallions; a "sensitive" guy who cries when he sees sunsets and sings songs with his guitar about dolphins; a hulking basketball star with huge teeth and a fizzy-looking wedge of white hair; a smooth-talking author who seduces women by telling them how sensuous the cells in their skin are; and an unnerved Abraham Lincoln.

Ramis, who co-wrote the film with Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan, wants to show that he's essentially a softie at heart, and the film ends up short-circuiting. All the snap and pizazz of the original material (it wasn't called Bedazzled for nothing) has been removed, replaced by little messages and indicators showing that Elliot grows from his experiences, such as having him start showing up for work in a denim jacket, and the Devil turns out to be remarkably conciliatory and a good sport. Elizabeth Hurley, who should have played this part to a fare-thee-well, turns out to be the film's biggest disappointment. She plays it like a sulky pussycat, and while she can spin words like "piquant" to stunning effect, her low-key approach just doesn't work. In fact, the seductive, purring tones of her scenes with Elliot aren't as effective (there's always that sense of wariness between the two) as the camaraderie between the two men in the earlier film. Dudley Moore was the desperate love-struck Stanley, Peter Cook played the Devil in full, Swinging Sixties London gear, and their banter was shaped so that it would keep drawing Stanley in, disarming him just enough so that he would  once again fall for the other's tricks, use up all his wishes, and wind up with the Devil finally getting his soul.

Ramis isn't out to let anybody get anyone's soul in the new picture. Instead, there's an ending which is both bittersweet and sentimental, but which bewilderingly nullifies any reason as to why we should be watching this picture. One gets the impression that the filmmakers didn't want to explore the possibilities inherent in the material, that they only wanted to take it half-way. As a result, the film lets both Brendan Fraser, and the audience, down. But it may hopefully bring him some renewed attention, and the possibility of lending his talents to a film that will truly show them off to best advantage.

Directed by:
Harold Ramis

Starring:
Brendan Fraser
Elizabeth Hurley
Paul Adelstein
Miriam Shor
Orlando Jones
Toby Huss
Frances O'Connor

Written by:
Harold Ramis
Larry Gelbart
Peter Tolan

FULL CREDITS

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