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BEDAZZLED

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor
Director:  Harold Ramis
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  March 13, 2001

Film ***1/2

Trading one’s eternal soul for seven wishes?  It’s hardly a recommended transaction in any theology.  But how can anyone say no to Elizabeth Hurley?

That’s the predicament Elliott (Fraser) finds himself in when he meets up with Ms. Hurley as the Princess of Darkness in the Harold Ramis comedy Bedazzled.  Based on the original 1960’s cult comedy written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this Faustian story gets a slightly different twist in this updated version.  Fraser is a much sweeter and more appealing character, for one thing…and it goes without saying neither of those gents is quite as tempting as Hurley!

Elliott is a complete social misfit.  His mannerisms are always just a tad off, his coworkers try to ignore him and hope he’ll go away, and he’s lovesick for a woman, Alison (O’Connor) who doesn’t know he’s alive.  Then one night, he utters the magic words, “I’d give anything…”, and you can guess what happens next.

The devil in a red dress appears:  charming, seductive, and bearing an offer he can’t refuse.  Seven wishes…anything his heart desires, in exchange for one measly little soul.  With a determination to make Alison love him, he sets off on his ill-advised adventure, and the fun begins.

The trailer gave away the first one, but gracefully managed to conceal the rest, so I’ll do the same here.  His first wish is to be rich, powerful and married to Alison.  He ends up all three; but the devil has a few surprises up her sleeve.  Turns out, he’s a Columbian drug lord (the scene where he realizes he can speak Spanish is priceless), Alison is having an affair with a rogue English teacher, and the Russian underworld is putting a hit on his operation!

Fortunately, the devil provided him with a means to call for help if his wish doesn’t go quite the way he had hoped, and we get the impression that poor Elliott is going to be doing that a few more times before the film is up.  I’ll leave his next adventures for you to discover, as each one is a funny, delightful surprise.  The main point is that each time, Elliott tries to make himself into his conception of what a woman would want in a man, and over the course of his comic mishaps, he comes to learn a thing or two about said perceptions, and himself as well.

Ultimately, the film is very sweet in nature (despite the Satanic influence), because it’s really not about the deal with the diabolical one, but Elliott’s journey of self discovery.  Brendan Fraser is one of the most consistently good comic actors working to day, and it’s the sense of warmth and awkward charm he brings to the role that makes the character so likable.  Not only that, he gets to demonstrate his abilities in a string of different versions of the same character.  He’s always had the ability to play the heroic leading man, as in The Mummy, or the square peg, as in Blast From the Past, with equal appeal.  Here, he gets to do both, and many shades in between:  an absolute cornucopia of comic performances, and as always, he seems to be having the time of his life with his work.

As for Elizabeth Hurley…wow.  As with her role in Austin Powers, she proves once again that she can play comedy with some mettle.  She also nearly melts the screen with her sizzling sex appeal, which I don’t think she’s ever had so much fun with.  The fact that Elliott can still think of Allison in her presence makes him a decent guy in my book

The structure of the film allows for a small group of supporting characters to follow Elliott from fantasy to fantasy (“and you were there, and you, and you…”), which allows other comic actors like Orlando Jones in on the role-swapping fun.  It gives each scene a nice blend of being fantastic and grounded at the same time. 

Of course, one can’t watch a film of this story line without wondering, how will it end?  It would seem pretty hard to break a contract with the devil, but then again, having the lead character end up in hell would kind of suck, too.  The film resolves this issue with a bit of a cheat; the only sin in an otherwise savory comedy.

But before then, the laughs are genuine and frequent…if you’re not howling at Elliott’s mishaps, you’re chuckling at the way the devil always shows up on screen as one kind of stereotypical male fantasy or another (meter maid, Catholic school teacher, and so on).  It all serves to teach Elliott a lesson or two about himself.  Does it work?  I think so.

Bedazzled is simply sexy, comic fun from beginning to end... a hell of a good time!

Video ****

Chalk this anamorphic transfer up as another triumph for Fox.  Harold Ramis admits to trying for a more expressive and dimensional look for this film than most comedies have, and he succeeded.  The DVD brings the vast array of colors and images to life with integrity, sharpness, and detail from beginning to end, with no noticeable grain, break-up or shimmer.  The range of focus is sometimes quite deep, as in the night club scenes, but neither foreground nor background objects suffer from haziness or softness.  Blacks are strong and clear, especially in the night sequences.  Devilishly good!

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio packs quite a punch, too, laying dormant for dialogue scenes and then springing to life in bursts of action or music.  A few spare sequences make good use of the discreet rear channels; at other times, they stay out of the way when it’s time to focus on the spoken words.  The .1 channel delivers extra bottom end to the club scenes, and the soundtrack is clean and crystal clear throughout.  Hot!

Features ****

This special edition disc is quite loaded, starting with two commentary tracks.  The first, by Harold Ramis, is a charming and informative listen, with plenty of nice detail along the way.  The second, by Elizabeth Hurley and producer Trevor Albert, is a decent listen, but not quite as good as I would have hoped.  Though obviously recorded separately, an attempt was made to unify them by having Albert ask scripted and leading questions of the star along the way, which is a tad cheesy.  Both are masters of stating the obvious:  Ms. Hurley points out that Fraser “doesn’t yet believe” she’s the devil in an early scene; Albert feels the need to explain that a wrap party is the big celebration that takes place after a movie is completed!

The making-of featurette is very well done:  hosted by Elizabeth Hurley with tongue firmly in cheek, it features interviews with all the principal cast members and crew, and is quite an entertaining program in its own right.  There is also a trailer and some TV spots, two scoring sessions (where the film is shown in the corner and we get to watch the conductors and musicians as they work), a costume featurette, some Nuon features (I didn’t have the right kind of player to access them), a THX Optimode guide, and a stills gallery.  As a nice added touch, the disc starts off with the devil herself asking you to “make a wish”…depending on your choice, you get one of four menu designs.

A word of advice, however…stay away from the features until AFTER you’ve watched the movie, or many surprises will be ruined for you!

Summary:  

Bedazzled is a charming, funny comedy with a good heart and great lead performances.  If you’re looking for a good time, you’d be damned to pass up this delightfully sweet and sexy flick served up on a top notch DVD.  Give in to the temptation!