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A remake of the 1967 Stanley Donen Peter Cook/Dudley Moore fantasy, this is a fine showcase for the versatile comedy stylings of Brendan Fraser, though the sketch format is hit-or-miss (as it was first time round) and the modern movie can't bring itself to get into the theological areas Donen rather surprisingly managed in the scene where the Devil tries to return to Heaven. Geeky Fraser mans a computer helpline, yearns after co-worker Frances O'Connor and is patronised and despised by the gang he tries to get in with. In a bar, he meets the Devil (Elizabeth Hurley), who proves her bona fides and offers him seven wishes to improve his life - each of which is poorly-phrased to allow her to wreck the intent. First, and most elaborately, the hero wishes to be married to O'Connor and rich and powerful, only to find himself a Spanish-speaking Colombian druglord whose wife is cheating on him with minions who are out to take over his business. Then, in virtual blackout sketches, he's a sensitive guy who loses the girl to a beach thug, a tall and thick basketball player (very good perspective work) with a tiny penis, a cultured sophisticate who is (of course) gay and the President (Lincoln at the theatre). With one wish (a Big Mac and a coke) frittered and having encountered an angelic cellmate (a black guy, as usual), he uses his last selflessly (that O'Connor be happy) and gets to go about his life, having learned his lesson, striking out with O'Connor but getting together with her lookalike, who has his personality profile.
Aside from the unsettling suggestion that looks are all that really
count, the film suffers from Hurley's not-quite-there comic timing and
gags a lot less clever than the original's. The structure of resetting
to zero and starting over, hoping to get it right this time, recalls
director Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day, but this isn't
on that level, oddly missing the real nightmare (Fraser is never in
peril of damnation because he is told his soul isn't his to sell, but
God's) as well as the comedic potential of the Faust story. There are
plenty of smart lines and good gags, but also a lot of obvious material
-- and a sneakingly conservative idea of the Devil's work in that she
runs a nightclub and wears provocative red and black outfits, sometimes
suggesting all sexuality is infernal. But this, unlike Groundhog
Day or even the 1967 Bedazzled, is never a
comedy that can be taken seriously.
First published in this form here.
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