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Bedazzled (2000)

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.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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