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.