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(1998) (Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman) (PG-13)

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Drama: Two sisters who were brought up as witches must contend with a centuries old curse that means certain death for any man with whom they become romantically attached.
Sally (SANDRA BULLOCK) and Gillian (NICOLE KIDMAN) Owens have always been the closest of sisters. Orphaned at a young age when their father died and their mother soon followed via a broken heart, the sisters grew up with their Aunts Jet (DIANNE WIEST) and Frances (CHANNING), single ladies known for their practical magic.

The sisters also learned at an early age of a centuries old curse placed by an 18th century Owens ancestor -- namely that any man to fall for an Owens woman will meet an untimely death -- that shaped the girls into completely different beings. While Sally became more reserved and hoped for her dream man to come along one day, Gillian became the wild one and set out to sow her wild oats.

The results, needless to say, are disastrous. Now an adult, Sally raises a family with husband, Michael (MARK FEUERSTEIN), but he meets an early demise, and Gillian dates a malevolent drifter, Jimmy (GORAN VISNJIC), who isn't above beating and threatening her.

When the ladies take care of Gillian's problem, things go from bad to worse. Haphazardly enacting a spell to reverse their accidental, but still fatal solution, Sally and Gillian set into motion a series of events that will push them to the edge. Not only does Jimmy return to haunt the two women, but a special investigator, Gary Hallet (AIDAN QUINN), shows up looking for him.

As Hallet continues his investigation and Sally falls for him, the sisters must contend not only with that and Jimmy's appearances, but also with the local townsfolk who've become increasingly nervous and agitated by the women's reported witchcraft.

If they're fans of Bullock ("Speed," "Hope Floats"), Kidman ("Dead Calm," "To Die For") or witch-related/magical plots, they just might.
For some violence, intense thematic elements and sensuality.
  • SANDRA BULLOCK plays the down to Earth widow who's trying to lead a regular life and raise her daughters to be normal kids despite all of them being witches.
  • NICOLE KIDMAN plays the wilder sister who smokes a lot and goes out with (and apparently sleeps with) the wrong guys.
  • DIANE WIEST and STOCKARD CHANNING play the sister's aunts who delve in magic (mostly of the matchmaking kind).
  • AIDAN QUINN plays a special investigator who shows up looking for a missing man and ends up falling for Sally.


    OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
    Throughout much of cinematic history, witches have received a bad rap. Despite the good- hearted nature of Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz," most everyone -- if they originally saw that film as a child -- has the Wicked Witch of the West, with her pointed nose, green skin, and evil demeanor, permanently scarred in their psyche.

    Things got better in the mid 1960's and early 1970's as Elizabeth Montgomery gave witches a good name as the gorgeous and good-natured Samantha Stevens in TV's "Bewitched." It would be another quarter of a century, however, before witches would again receive the Hollywood glamor treatment, and this time it came in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher in the 1987 adaption of John Updike's "The Witches of Eastwick."

    Now, more than a decade later, the attractive people of the world are once again giving witches a positive spin, and Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are here to prove that you can be a witch and still have your good looks. It's too bad they don't have a good movie to along with that.

    While it's not a horrible picture by any means, "Practical Magic" is haphazardly constructed with too many genres floating about in its cauldron -- comedy, drama, romance, family matters, supernatural thriller, etc... -- for its own good. The result is that none of those elements gets the full treatment and the film consequently feels anemic and scattered most of the time.

    While its passably enjoyable and certainly not a chore to sit through, it's clearly nowhere as good as "The Witches of Eastwick" (most notably due to that film's superior cast and source material), and is yet another film that suffers -- at least in my humble opinion -- from taking the wrong track in developing its plot.

    Some viewers may be surprised by the domestic violence and "Exorcist" like elements that surprisingly pop up in the story, and I think that's where the story errs and begins to lose the audience. Instead of taking that dark route, the film should have opted more for romantic comedy tossed in with the supernatural elements. The haunting theme currently present could have remained, but rather than being villainous and evil, it should have been light and funny, with the deceased comically interrupting the sister's later romantic ventures (itself something of a curse to complement the centuries old hex).

    As such, the whole element of Aidan Quinn's character showing up and falling for Sally -- a rather late developing and weak plot contrivance that doesn't work as currently constructed -- could stay, and this new romantic comedy approach would have allowed that romance to more properly and believably blossom.

    Unfortunately, the film's disparate trio of screenwriters -- Robin Swicord ("Matilda," "Little Women"), Akiva Goldsman ("Lost in Space," "Batman & Robin") and Adam Brooks ("French Kiss," the upcoming "Beloved") have instead delivered what amounts to not much more than a disjointed screenplay. Although I'm not familiar with Alice Hoffman's source novel of the same name, I can only hope that it feels more cohesive than the hodgepodge of elements that have made it to the silver screen in this picture.

    Helmed by actor turned director Griffin Dunne ("Addicted to Love"), the film does have its moments, but never quite figures out what type of story it wants to tell and not surprisingly runs out of steam long before the credits roll. To make matters worse, everything gets a little silly in the third act -- Nicole Kidman doing her best writhing, Linda Blair impression, the community coming to save the day, and everyone living happily ever after -- as the filmmakers seem to be randomly searching for a way to wrap everything up and end the story.

    Luckily, the film's attractive and charismatic cast mostly saves the production. Bullock ("Speed," "While You Were Sleeping") is good, but she's played this sort of role so often before -- with a little magic thrown in this is pretty close to her character in "Hope Floats" -- that it's not hard to accept her in such parts.

    Nicole Kidman ("To Die For," "Far and Away"), however, has greater fun with her more lively developed character. Until the goofy end when she has to do the "Exorcist" bit, she obviously has a good time and is effective playing the vamp. Supporting performances from Diane Wiest ("Hannah and her Sisters") and Stockard Channing ("Six Degrees of Separation") are also good, although as the film's comic relief they could have used -- and certainly deserved -- more substantial material.

    Meanwhile Aidan Quinn ("Avalon") is decent as the investigator, but there's practically no chemistry between him and Bullock -- let alone a plausible romance -- while Goran Visnjic ("Welcome to Sarajevo") is appropriately creepy as both the abusive jerk and his subsequent postmortem presence.

    Although some moviegoers will no doubt enjoy the film, it never quite worked for me. To top it off, for a film about witches and magic, the picture is decidedly and surprisingly bereft of such elements. While Sally learns how to blow "on" candles (as compared to blowing them out), and we see some shots of self-stirring spoons, for a film such as this, the magical moments are lacking.

    While one of Sally's girls gives a meanspirited boy the chicken pox (one of the few better laughs in the film), and the sisters obviously resurrect the dead with a spell, I kept waiting for them to finally let loose with the ol' hocus-pocus to deal not only with the continually meanspirited townspeople, but their other problems as well. Alas, little of that happens, which causes me to think that perhaps the title should have been "Practically Nonexistent Magic" instead.

    Mildly entertaining and easy enough to sit through -- but only once -- this film has its moments, but also suffers from too many songs present just to sell the soundtrack with no efforts to enhance the story. Such songs, some now obligatory cutesy musical numbers where everyone dances around the room, and the rest of the material unfortunately don't collectively add up to anything special. If not for the star-powered cast, this film would probably disappear faster than Samantha Stevens could wiggle her nose. Certainly not as enjoyable or as good as it appeared it would be, "Practical Magic" gets a 4.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. For those concerned with the occult, magic and witchcraft, this picture obviously has elements of all of that. Some of them also eventually lead to several moments that may be scary or unsettling to some viewers as a spirit inhabits one of the characters (in an "Exorcist" type of way).

    Beyond that, profanity is moderate with 6 "s" words (and 2 uses of "G-damn" for those concerned with that), several deaths occur (some accidental, others the "re-killing" of a person), and a man is physically abusive to one of the women in the story.

    A moderate amount of drinking occurs, and in one scene, the sisters and their aunts appear to be somewhat drunk from drinking shots of liquor. Nicole Kidman's character smokes quite often during the film, and presumably goes through a stage where she "sows her wild oats" although we don't see any direct activity.

    Since this film may be attractive to many kids, we suggest you take a closer look through the content if you're concerned with its appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Jet and Frances drink something with a meal that may be alcoholic.
  • People have drinks at a pool party Gillian attends.
  • Jimmy drinks vodka and Gillian puts a sedative (perhaps belladonna) in it to knock him out (as does Sally later in the story).
  • After abducting Sally and Gillian, Jimmy drinks some liquor, and Sally then takes a swig herself.
  • The sisters and their aunts have margaritas and then repeatedly drink straight shots of liquor (and appear somewhat intoxicated).
  • Sally and Gillian's palms are slightly bloody after they slice them with a knife and then join hands in a blood siblings sort of ritual.
  • Gillian has a deep bruise on her face (from where Jimmy punched her -- not seen).
  • Noted from a distance, we see and hear Jimmy urinating on the side of the road (no nudity).
  • The deathly appearance of Jimmy (with glowing bloodshot eyes) as well as views of his body may be unsettling to some viewers (although beyond being dead, there's nothing bloody or gory about it).
  • Having just worked with some rose bushes, Sally has a minor bloody scrape on her neck.
  • We see a somewhat gory and deep, star-shaped wound in a ghost's hand.
  • Some viewers may find the film's lighthearted treatment of witches and spells -- used for comedy, romance, to save the day and being taught to little girls -- as having both types of attitude.
  • The local townsfolk, especially the kids who throw rocks and taunt the girls, don't like the Owens due to rumors of them being witches and are mean or try to ignore them.
  • Although we don't see the act, Jimmy has punched Gillian, and later threatens her with more physical violence.
  • Sally and Gillian try to cover up a death and don't cooperate with Hallet.
  • Whether the following is tense or scary depends on the age and maturity level of the viewer and their tolerance for supernatural elements.
  • Jimmy suddenly grabs Gillian and pulls her into the backseat of a car and then abducts both her and Sally. He then tries not only to brand Gillian with his flame-heated finger ring, but also to strangle her.
  • While casting a spell attempting to resurrect Jimmy, the sisters come close to running long needles through his eyes (but don't get the chance).
  • The repeated appearances of the deceased Jimmy (with glowing and bloodshot eyes), and a shot of his boots appearing from his backyard grave and then sinking back into the ground may be unsettling or scary to some viewers.
  • Jimmy tries to strangle Gillian again, but Sally "kills" him again by repeatedly hitting him on the head with a heavy skillet.
  • A scene where Gillian writhes and contorts on the bed possessed by a spirit (like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist") may be scary to some viewers, as might another appearance by the deceased Jimmy. Later, she appears possessed again.
  • Finally, she writhes on the floor as the women attempt to "exorcise" a spirt from within her in a several minute sequence that may also be scary or unsettling to some viewers (especially young kids).
  • Handgun: Briefly held by Hallet and aimed at a supernatural apparition.
  • Phrases: "Screwed" (sexual), "Sucks," "Bastard," "Shut up," "Pissed," "Frigid old hag" and "Slut."
  • The witchcraft and supernatural elements may be enticing to impressionable kids.
  • Gillian's behavior and appearance -- she smokes a lot, goes out with the wrong guys, has tattoos on her arm and breast, etc... -- may be of imitative fodder to some kids.
  • As young girls (and again as adults), Sally and Gillian slice their palms with a knife and then join hands in a blood siblings sort of ritual.
  • Gillian secretly puts a sedative (perhaps belladonna) in Jimmy's vodka to knock him out, and later Sally does the same (to allow them to escape from him -- but it ends up killing him).
  • Jimmy physically abuses Gillian and at one point attempts to brand her with his flame-heated finger ring.
  • Jimmy suddenly grabs Gillian and pulls her into the backseat of a car.
  • A moderate amount of spooky music occurs in several scenes.
  • None.
  • 1 slang term for sex ("screwed") and at least 6 "s" words, 3 hells, 2 damns, 1 ass (used with "hole"), and 6 uses of "Oh my God," 4 of "Oh God," 2 each of "G-damn" and "God," and 1 use each of "My God" and "Swear to God" as exclamations.
  • There's brief talk (by a narrator) of an Owen's ancestor having a lot of lovers (and that their wives were on the hanging committee), and about her being pregnant by one of these men (but no activity is noted).
  • Although we don't see any activity, Gillian reportedly sets out to sow her wild oats, and even comments that she has to use a sedative on Jimmy so that she can get some sleep.
  • A woman comments to others that Gillian "screwed" one of the school's coaches.
  • Somewhat tipsy, Gillian jokes about some man being "big" (referring to his genitals) and that Sally is scared of that and will become a "frigid old hag." A comment is then made about "sluts" being in the family.
  • Sally and Gillian occasionally show some cleavage -- with the latter having an obvious tattoo on the top of one breast.
  • Sally and Hallet fall to a horizontal position, kiss and he starts to take off her sweater, but she stops him and then gets up and leaves, uncomfortable with what was happening.
  • Gillian smokes often during the movie, while Jimmy smokes a few times and others smoke at a party.
  • The sisters -- as girls and adults -- talk about their parents' deaths -- the father's being accidental, the mother dying from a broken heart -- and we see that they have to move in with their aunts at a young age.
  • Sally must contend with her husband's death, and then with raising her two young daughters.
  • Witches, witchcraft and other supernatural topics.
  • Domestic abuse -- Jimmy hits and threatens Gillian.
  • The townsfolk treatment of the Owens that's based solely on rumor of them being witches.
  • In the opening scene set centuries ago, a group of townsfolk is preparing to hang an Owen's woman, but as she jumps from the platform the noose around her neck breaks and she survives.
  • Some kids throw rocks at Sally and Gillian as kids.
  • Although it's not seen through to its end, the aunts have a woman impale a captive bird with a long needle during a spell.
  • As young girls (and again as adults), Sally and Gillian slice their palms with a knife and then join hands in a blood siblings sort of ritual.
  • Although accidental (unless accounting for the hex), Michael is killed when hit by a truck (the impact isn't seen).
  • Although we don't see the act, Jimmy has punched Gillian, and later threatens her with more physical violence. He then tries not only to brand Gillian with his flame-heated finger ring, but also to strangle her (causing Sally to jump on him, but he quickly dies from having been given too much of a sedative).
  • Jimmy tries to strangle Gillian again, but Sally "kills" him again by repeatedly hitting him on the head with a heavy skillet.
  • Jimmy sticks his hand into Hallet's chest, but then withdraws it with a gory and deep, star shaped wound in it.
  • Sally backhands Gillian -- who's possessed by a spirit -- and knocks her to the floor.

  • Reviewed October 13, 1998

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