Bedazzled

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The latest entry from the remake factories is Bedazzled. Taken on its own, it’s a lightweight but appealing romp that showcases Brendan Fraser’s considerable comedic talents. But compared to the earlier version, the current film is a little too Politically Correct for its own good. It takes far fewer chances and potshots, and as a result both offends and entertains less than the original did.

The basic story line is the same – Elliot Richards (Fraser) is a meek loser stuck in a menial job, madly in love with a gorgeous and unattainable co-worker. He appeals to The Devil (Elizabeth Hurley), selling his soul for seven wishes that he then uses to try to win the heart of his dream love. But each time one of his wishes is fulfilled, Satan manages to devise a way to maintain the letter of his request but not its spirit. When Elliot uses his first wish, to be "rich and powerful", Beelzebub transforms him into a Columbian drug lord, dodging bullets from a coup attempt. Subsequent wishes (to be a sensitive guy, to star in the NBA, to be President of the US) yield similarly undesired results.

The original Bedazzled, released in 1967, is a dark and biting theological satire in which Peter Cook (The Devil) and Dudley Moore (The Loser) lob acidic verbal bombs about faith, dogma and society at each other. With the remake, director/writer Harold Ramis and his co-writers Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan have taken a kinder, gentler route. It’s a humorous enough series of vignettes but one keeps waiting for something smarter or more cynical, especially given the vast canvas of religion and theology waiting to be used. The most daring this version gets is a constant reminder ("be who you really are") that’s used one too many times and brought home in a fairly simplistic and syrupy conclusion.

As Elliot, Brendan Fraser turns in a winning performance. Each of his "wish" mini-stories requires him to adopt outlandish makeup and personas, and he manages to define each with its own comic spirit. Sweet without being saccharine, sympathetic without being totally hapless, he’s the World’s Biggest Boy Scout. Elizabeth Hurley fares far less well. She never appears smart, sinister, or scary enough to convince anyone that she’s really The Prince(ss) Of Darkness. There’s no doubt that she’s a beautiful woman, but in the original, Raquel Welch (as Lust, one of The Seven Deadly Sins – a plot device not used in this version) exuded more sex appeal in her two small scenes than Hurley does over the entire film.

The 2000 edition of Bedazzled appears to have had a lot of the life homogenized out of it by one too many focus group sessions, and more than a few scenes appear to be reined in a notch to stay within a PG-13 rating. Viewed in the absence of its predecessor, it’s broadly entertaining. But producing a remake triggers deserved comparisons with previous versions and eventually prompts the question: is there a good reason why this film was remade? Other than "money", the answer here is largely – no. It deserves praise, but only with faint damns. If a safe and pleasant diversion is your goal, see this version. But for acidic wit, rent the original – and listen for the immortal words: "Julie Andrews!"

– Bob Aulert

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