Screenplay : Larry Gelbart and Harold Ramis & Peter Tolan (based on a 1967 by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Elliot), Elizabeth Hurley (The Devil), Frances O'Connor (Allison), Orlando Jones (Dan)
In Harold Ramis' remake of Bedazzled, sultry siren Elizabeth Hurley plays the Devil, exchanging the well-groomed suits and Ray-Ban sunglasses favored by Peter Cook in the 1967 British original for a variety of outfits ranging from a skin-tight red leather suit, to a skin-tight police woman's uniform, to a skin-tight angel's costume. The operative phrase being here, of course, skin-tight.
Naturally, Ms. Hurley's curves being put on ample display by a minimalist wardrobe is not all the movie has to offer, but its overwhelming effect does point up the general weakness of this comedy, namely that it's not nearly as funny or as wicked as it should be, especially since it comes from the same team that made last year's hilarious mob comedy Analyze This. Remakes, by their very nature, are generally tepid affairs in which originality or daring is usually replaced with formulas and reserve. Bedazzled is not much different.
The opening act of the movie finds Brendan Fraser playing goofiness to extreme proportions as Elliot, a single, friendless, lonely young man who is in love with an office co-worker, Allison (Frances O'Connor), who doesn't even know he exists. The problem with Elliot is that he's not just a nerd. No, he's an overbearing nerd, the kind of obnoxious geek whose very presence in a room immediately clears it. Co-workers avoid him and his clumsy, overenthusiastic attempts at friendship, and the way director Harold Ramis handles Fraser's performance doesn't do much for Elliot's character. Rather than being sad and sympathetic, he is painfully irritating to the point of inviting derision from the audience.
Things start to look up once Hurley's Devil, clad in a red dress and driving an appropriately named Lamborghini Diablo, enters the narrative and entices Elliot with a deal: in exchange for his soul, she will grant him seven wishes. Elliot reluctantly accepts the deal (written out in a ridiculously long contract that is about two feet thick), mostly because the Devil plays on his insecurities and longing to be accepted.
Once this is in place, the rest of the movie catalogues Elliot's various wishes and the way the Devil grants them ... sort of. In each case, she gives Elliot exactly what he wishes for, but gives it her own diabolical spin. Thus, when his first wish is to be married to Allison and to be very rich and very powerful, she turns him into a Colombia drug lord who is shackled in a sham marriage in which Allison despises him and sleeps with other men ("You didn't say anything about love," the Devil points out).
The jokes stem from Elliot's constant miscalculations in wording his wishes and the Devil's ability to insert unexpected twists. Sometimes this premise works better than others, and the movie generates a loose, episodic feel in which each wish becomes like a Saturday Night Live skit that succeeds or fails on its own merits, rather than as part of the larger plot. The notion of whether or not Elliot, who becomes more and more likable as the movie progresses, will manage to get out of the deal and save his soul is rendered almost irrelevant.
Bedazzled has a few laughs here and there, but it feels largely like a thrown-together piece of work. Ramis' comedic touch seems unnaturally heavy, and he relies a great deal on Elizabeth Hurley's sexual energy to give the movie any life since it is lacking a truly naughty sensibility. In small doses, Hurley's sexual allure is good, but the movie comes to rely on it, which is a bad sign.
Brendan Fraser spends most of the film wildly overacting in a variety of wigs, fake teeth, and facial prosthetics, whether that be in his Elliot nerd persona, or as an oversensitive wannabe poet prone to crying at sunsets (at one point he wishes to be more sensitive), or as a seven-foot-six basketball stud with an IQ of a block of wood. This is an unfortunate return for Fraser to the broad, cartoonish acting of George of the Jungle (1997) or Dudley Do-Right (1998), not even reaching the combination of charm and innocence, machismo and awkwardness he displayed in the romantic comedy Blast From the Past (1999). Here, he is reduced almost entirely to various stereotypes and broad caricatures, and the result is sometimes funny, but never hilarious.
©2000 James Kendrick