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(2000) (Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Desperate to have the affections of a woman who barely knows he exists, a socially inept loser sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven wishes that may change his chances with her.
Elliot Richards (BRENDAN FRASER) is a well-intentioned, but socially inept loser whose overbearing ways usually cause his fellow technical support advisors - including Carol (MIRIAM SHOR), Dan (ORLANDO JONES), Bob (PAUL ADELSTEIN) and Jerry (TOBY HUSS) - to flee or cringe whenever he approaches them.

His lack of social graces certainly doesn't help his chances with Alison Gardner (FRANCES O'CONNOR), another coworker for the past four years that he's completely enamored with but barely knows he exists. When he finally gets up the nerve to approach her, she blows him off.

As a result, his plea that he'd do anything to have Alison in his life draws the attention of none other than the Devil (ELIZABETH HURLEY). A sultry temptress, the Devil eventually convinces Elliot of her identity and then offers him a deal. If he'll sign away his soul to her, she'll grant him seven wishes that will not only give him the chance to win Alison's love, but also to live out his fantasies of being rich, famous, powerful and handsome.

Although it sounds too good to be true, Elliot signs the contract and, with the knowledge that he can back out of any wish should it not go the way he intended, he makes his first one. He soon learns, however, that you can't trust the Devil when he realizes time and again that she's set out to mischievously foil his dreams.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Long before Dudley Moore made a name for himself bouncing along with Bo Derek in "10" or became a huge star with his portrayal of a lovable drunk in "Arthur," he played Stanley Moon, a timid man so enamored with a woman that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for various wishes to have her. The resultant film, 1967's "Bedazzled," co-starred Peter Cook as the mischievous Beelzebub and was one of the more amusing and often hilarious films of the '60s.

A retooling of the old Faust legend - the story of a man selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for power and knowledge that's been told in various formats and fashions in the intervening 400 hundred years or so, such as the 1986 picture, "Crossroads" - the film benefited from the comedic chemistry between Moore and Cook and the clever ways in which the Devil foiled Moon's wishes. It also wisely cast sex symbol Raquel Welch in a cameo part playing Lust.

Possibly motivated by that inspired casting, director Harold Ramis ("Analyze This," "Caddyshack") and co-screenwriters Larry Gelbart ("Oh God," co-writer of "Tootsie") and Peter Tolan (co-writer of "Analyze This" and "What Planet Are You From?") have decided to remake that film, putting a fresh and updated spin on the material and particularly the story's antagonist.

Instead of going the standard route and casting a man as Mephistopheles, Ramis and company opted to break the longstanding trend and cast the sultry and sexy Elizabeth Hurley ("EDtv," the "Austin Powers" films) in the part. Since the Devil's traditional role has been to tempt man, and a woman bedevils this film's protagonist, it only seems appropriate that Hurley embody the character. She certainly does a fine job handling the role's physical aspects (always wearing tight, provocative and revealing clothing) as well as the comedic ones.

Notwithstanding the oozing sex appeal, however, she pales in that latter category when compared to Brendan Fraser ("The Mummy," "Blast From the Past") who portrays the hapless and lovelorn protagonist. Not only does he perfectly embody the initial socially inept character (the overbearing kind we've all experienced at some point in our lives), but he also then goes on to play - in an often inspired fashion - several exaggerated versions of himself in the various wishes he gets.

Since the film's underlying plot structure is a bit repetitious and not terribly complicated - it's really just a collection of elongated skits - and Hurley's Devil character - while easy on the eyes - doesn't really change, it's essentially up to Fraser and his many character incarnations to carry the film. For the most part, he delivers a comical tour de force, often disappearing into some of the characters so well that you'll forget it's him.

While I won't give away any of their characteristics since that would ruin most of the related fun (some of which is instantly obvious while others contain comedic payoffs that show up later), I will say that some of them work better than others. In essence, the filmmakers have fashioned "Fantasy Island" type segments within the movie where Fraser's initial dweeb character gets to play out various fantasies, all of which obviously have their own set of pitfalls.

While much of that's amusing and occasionally outrageous and hilarious as it occurs, in hindsight it seems that Ramis and company may have missed the boat - or at least the upper decks - in their approach. For one, the mixture of Fraser's initial characterizations with that of his subsequent, wish-based ones doesn't always mesh to the maximum comic effect. Without going into any specifics, it's too bad that most of the character's traits often disappear a bit too much in what's essentially a multiple "fish out of water" scenario.

Then there's the whole bit about the Devil throwing various sizes and styles of monkey wrenches into Elliot's wishes. While that's obviously a big part of the fun - as we wait to see how she'll derail each one - I kept waiting for a progressively building battle of wits and wills once he caught on to her mischievous ways. Although there's a bit of that here that carries from one wish to the next, it ultimately seems that some missed opportunities slipped through the filmmakers' collective fingers.

As a result, the film begins to feel a bit repetitious (as one skit follows the next) and the humor - despite the presence of clever little jokes and asides (some of them lifted from the original film - begins to lose a bit of its edge and luster. It's not a completely debilitating problem, but as evidenced by the reaction of our preview audience, the laughs aren't as plentiful or hearty as the film wears on, and the ending is the film's weakest comedic point.

Beyond Fraser and Hurley, the supporting performers and their characters, such as Frances O'Connor ("Mansfield Park," "Love and Other Catastrophes") as Elliot's love interest and Orlando Jones ("The Replacements," "Liberty Heights") as one of his coworkers - are okay, but don't add a great deal to the proceedings from a comedy standpoint (although they and others appear in every wish in a sort of "Wizard of Oz" type fashion).

Overall, the story and Fraser and Hurley's performances are amusing and fun enough to earn the film a passing grade. Yet, it's certainly not Ramis' best work ("Groundhog Day" and "Ghostbusters" are far superior), and it's clearly not as consistently good as might have been. For those looking for a mindless and somewhat entertaining diversion, however, you could probably do a lot worse than this choice. "Bedazzled" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 16, 2000 / Posted October 20, 2000

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