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Bedazzled   B+

20th Century Fox

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan, Larry Gelbart
Cast: Brendon Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Miriam Shor.

Review by Rob Vaux

You don't ask for much from films like Bedazzled: an hour or so of laughs, nothing actively embarrassing, and an impression long enough to snicker about in the coffee shop afterwards. Director Harold Ramis has made his career out of such blithely entertaining fare, and his hits (Animal House, Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters) still outweigh his misses (Multiplicity, Analyze This). With Bedazzled, he can chalk another one in the win column, not only because it's funny, but because it manages to stay funny for most of its running time.

The film mines its humor primarily from its two stars, who fit their respective roles like gloves. Brendon Fraser plays Elliot Richards, the sort of nails-on-the blackboard pest that sends his coworkers diving for cover. Elizabeth Hurley plays the Devil, who offers Elliot seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Hurley plays the Devil as a sort of naughty girl run amok, taunting and teasing her target with kittenish glee. No one else can make a man feel so completely gelded as she can. Fraser on the other hand, has a perfect sense of befuddlement that lets us believe he can be snookered by this vixen. He also brings a quiet vulnerability to Elliot -- who's in love with a pretty coworker (Frances O'Connor), a fact which the Devil uses to ensnare him -- that lets us empathize with him even as we're laughing at his predicament.

And what a predicament it is. Elliot signs the contract, of course, and it's clear from the get-go that he's bitten off more than he can chew. The wishes are just flimsy excuses for Hurley to run him through the ringer, and the film settles down into an extended series of skits as he lives out various fantasies, which go wrong in the usual Faustian/Monkey's Paw kind of way. We see Elliot as Colombian drug lord, pro basketball player, sensitive New Age guy, and multiple other personae, all of whom are involved with his would-be ladylove. While the structure becomes a bit repetitive, it also lets Fraser play with a wide variety of characters. He has a great sense of delivery and milks laughs from subtle physical acting as well as the goofy situations he finds himself in. It's a treat watching him, and you find yourself chuckling in anticipation every time Elliot comes up with another misguided wish. Hurley keeps up with admirable aplomb as her wicked Princess of Darkness slowly reels him in.

Ramis wisely shies away from the gross-out antics of the Farrelly brothers in favor of something more straight-laced here. He shoots out jokes with rapid-fire precision, and most of them work, thanks both to clever writing and actors who know how to deliver them. While there are a few moments of heavy-handed shticks (and some completely unnecessary effects sequences), the funniest parts are solely dialogue-driven. It never rises beyond the superficial -- there's no groundbreaking comedic standard being broken -- but it succeeds by remaining consistently amusing from beginning to end. Most films of this nature tend to run out of laughs towards the finale, or drag while trying to space out the jokes. Ramis keeps things brisk and snappy, and though he has a few rough spots, never struggles for gags.

Bedazzled should be judged very simply. It's not trying to set new precedents, and it's not pretending to be the next Young Frankenstein. It just wants to make you laugh: loudly and with great frequency if possible. Thanks to a workmanlike effort, it achieves its goal far more successfully than most comedies. Bedazzled will make you laugh, loudly and with great frequency. With a film like this, nothing else really matters.

Review published 10.27.2000.

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