Good Intentions

Harold Ramis paves an uneven road to hell over the classic Bedazzled

Oh, the plight of the common nebbish, aching to be adored, mugging for attention, and eternally desperate to bag a sexy babe. Sounds familiar, no? That's because the little fella pops up all over the place, in movies as disparate as Losin' It, Wings of Desire, and Fight Club, but, upon consideration, the role's greatest renaissance man seems to be Dudley Moore. Mix his diminutive horndog with some Goldie Hawn, for instance, and you've got Foul Play, or with a piece of Bo Derek for 10, a bit of Liza Minnelli for Arthur...or equal parts Raquel Welch and Goethe (brilliantly stirred by Peter Cook), and you've got the original version of the newly remade Bedazzled.

Scintillating and hilarious, with Moore's elegance of expression setting a lasting standard for beautiful losers, the classic comedy--written by Cook and Moore, directed by Stanley Donen--has aged splendidly through 33 years of influence upon innumerable Brit wits and Yankee wankers. Now caught in the clutches of a confused, aggressive Hollywood, the Faustian material has had its cleverness excised, its brow lowered, and its wry charm bullied into submission. As a result, the new version by Harold Ramis trots out a load of bargain-rack gags, tarted up with pricey effects for the A.D.D. generation. Woe to those who cannot leave well enough alone.

Rather than echoing Moore's wonderful turn as the delightfully suicidal Stanley Moon, the new movie gives us Elliot Richardson (Brendan Fraser), a miserably dorky provider of telephone tech-support whose hip Bay Area coworkers determine that "plant life is out of his league." From the offset, we know we're ensconced in a realm of fantasy (each cubicle in their office comes equipped with a top-of-the-line Macintosh flat screen monitor), so it's hardly surprising when the Devil herself (Elizabeth Hurley) shows up to toy with Elliot's pathetic life. Redefining self-destruction as mere wistfulness--and the gloriously detached Peter Cook as a Satanic hottie in a black Lamborghini Diablo--the movie's premise is quickly established: Elliot wants to sow his wild oats with a pretty and vapid peer named Allison (Frances O'Connor), and, if he's willing to sign over his soul, the Devil ("with offices in Hell, Purgatory, and Los Angeles") will grant him seven wishes toward his cause.

The devil, and her cleavage, made him do it: Hurley and Fraser goof up Bedazzled.
The devil, and her cleavage, made him do it: Hurley and Fraser goof up Bedazzled.

Details

Based on the screenplay by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

The remainder of the movie consists of Elliot assuming a brash series of hopeful romantic identities, each of which is actually a setup for a nightmare scenario, concocted by the Devil via a loophole in the respective wish. For instance, a wish for power, riches, and wedlock ends up with Elliot as a cuckolded Colombian drug lord on the brink of extinction. Once this paradigm is established, the movie hastily diverges from the deliciously absurd spirit of the original, opting simply to let Fraser go wild in a variety of obnoxious costumes, until each wish becomes unbearable and he must return to his own identity by tapping out "666" on a pager.

Miraculously, the movie manages to generate several hearty guffaws, with the cast wringing lively humor out of such threadbare sources as caricatured ethnicity, shrunken genitalia, gay men, and maudlin divas. ("It's not easy being the Barbra Streisand of evil," comments Hurley, scoring a rare laugh for redundancy.) Ramis, who cowrote the script with Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan, can't be faulted for a lack of effort, merely a terribly skewed focus.

Taking their audience for lobotomized simians, Ramis and company have dumbed down Bedazzled so that even the lowliest knuckle-dragger will get the jokes. The tartness of the original ("I thought up the Deadly Sins in one afternoon...the only thing I've come up with lately is advertising.") has been eschewed in favor of impatient chatter. One would think that Ramis--who cut his teeth on the immeasurably important Caddyshack (yes, fellows, this critic understands) and later wowed the world with the enormously affable Groundhog Day--would have the sense to slow down and revel in the potential at hand here.

Somehow, Fraser and Hurley manage to hang on throughout. His raw energy makes the young Jerry Lewis seem sedate. Hurley, on the other hand, despite some possible method acting ("I do have a dark side, and it's not pretty"--true, Hugh?), possesses all the comedic skills of a flowerpot. Her appealing corporeal frame--which caused the guy sitting next to me to moan aloud in front of his girlfriend, who also seemed to be drooling--must have been an irresistible prop, but it's not enough to balance the gospel of Metaphysics 101 that Ramis seems determined to preach.

 
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