Witchy women

As witch movies go--even lighthearted, supposedly comic witch movies--Practical Magic is conspicuously lacking in supernatural phenomena. Director Griffin Dunne (Addicted to Love) can't scare up a single bedeviled infant or evil spirit living in a Ouija board; the best he can come up with is a boiling cauldron and a coven of witches who jump on broomsticks and float all the way...to the ground. What kind of magic, then, does Practical Magic mean to conjure up? Well, the movie does end. That's pretty magical.

Loosely adapted from a novel by Alice Hoffman, this enervated piece of business creaks along on a scrap of plot; it's less a movie than a curse. The Owens sisters, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman), represent the most recent generation of a long line of witches with their roots in (where else?) picturesque Massachusetts. The family lives with a curse: Any man who falls in love with an Owens girl is doomed to an early demise. Everybody else in town hates and fears them, of course: Put "witch" on your resume within a hundred miles of Boston, and you're sure to have a civil rights problem.

Gillian is the redheaded wild child of the sister set--chain smoker, lots and lots of shady boyfriends, and plenty of nights in distant honky-tonks and motels. Sally is the square and straight one: Despite the family curse, she marries a local fruit merchant, has a couple of kids, and instead of using her alleged powers, manufactures hand lotion and goes to PTA meetings. But the fruit merchant gets hit by a truck in the first reel, and the movie forgets him before the body is cold.

In the interest of plot advancement, Gillian gets in a little jam down in Arizona when her boyfriend, a Transylvanian named Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), smacks her around. That brings Sally to the rescue, via airplane rather than broom. Then the evil Jimmy kidnaps both sisters, and they're forced to kill him--twice. Please don't get too curious about this; they just do--they're witches. From Arizona to Massachusetts comes a cowboyish and extremely nosy police detective named Hallet (Aidan Quinn), who turns out to be the man of sweet Sally's dreams (despite the recent death of her husband), and who pitches in to help when the evil spirit of Gillian's dead boyfriend jumps inside her body. The Exorcist--hell, The Frighteners--it's not.

The point of the film is that "there's a little witch in us all"; that's not quite the word we were going for. So go at your peril: The moon may be full, but there's not much happening in the moonlight.

Practical Magic.
Directed by Griffin Dunne. Written by Robin Swicord, Akiva Goldsman, and Adam Brooks, from a novel by Alice Hoffman. Starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, and Aidan Quinn. Opens Friday.


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