If you could be anything in the world, what would it be? It sounds like the kind of question that gets asked at a party that’s gone on way too late. Would you be a rock star? An athlete? Or would you just want to be Brendan Fraser in Bedazzled, who gets to stand next to Elizabeth Hurley in take after take after take, while she’s wearing a lot of skimpy skin-tight outfits?
Fraser plays Elliott Richardson, a hapless technical support guy for a faceless software corporation (clearly, they make PC products, but Elliott uses a Mac…hmmm…). Despite his best efforts at being one of the guys, Elliott’s co-workers shun him. Understandably though, because Elliott is one of those guys who has absolutely no clue how obnoxious he is, going to bed “…wondering why nobody likes him.” The one bright spot in his life, if you can call it that, is his fixation on co-worker Allison Gardner (Frances O’Connor), whom he spoke to about the weather once three years ago, and who fills his fantasies every night.
Finally, after running into his co-workers at a local bar, Elliott gets the courage to have a second conversation with Allison. In a misguided effort to appear cool, he turns his back on her, so naturally she walks away. Despairing, he utters the words “I would give anything to have that girl in my life.” Fortunately for him, Satan (in the form of Elizabeth Hurley, and you just know that might be true) happens to be in the bar at that moment.
The Princess of Darkness offers Elliott seven wishes to try to create the right scenario in which Allison would love him. All she wants in exchange is (all together now, in a scary voice) his soul. It takes seven wishes, you see, because while the Devil happily gives life to spoken fantasies, she also looks for loopholes in order to screw things up. It’s not for nothing that Hell has all the lawyers. Elliott ends up as a famous writer, a basketball player, and the President, among other things. (Mysteriously, a rock star fantasy, prominent in the latest commercial for the movie, is nowhere to be found. It’s distracting in its absence.) Bedazzled plays out a somewhat predictable structure, but with some real laughs behind it.
Writer/Director Harold Ramis has fashioned each wish in homage to The Wizard Of Oz. The major players in Elliott’s life remain the same people, be it his boring day job or his existence as a Colombian drug lord. (Elliott asked to be rich and powerful; he forgot to say moral.) This allows for some great character work, especially by former Mad TV cast member Orlando Jones. Toby Huss and Paul Adelstein, heretofore minor character actors, make huge impressions with their flexible personas. Of course, the movie could only work with a good actor at its heart, and Fraser has a great time showing a flair for sketch comedy, though he’s helped by great make-up and special effects. In particular, his basketball player self drips as much humor as he does sweat.
As the object of Elliott’s affection, O’Connor gets little more than the chance to be an object, though the Australian actress does have a good ear for accents. Hurley basically changes costumes, but with her naughty demeanor and ability to slink even when standing still, it’s somehow okay. The most unbelievable part about Elliott’s deal with her is that he never asks to see her naked. Wouldn’t that be worth one wish?
Oh, we’re just too shallow. Despite a fixation on crotch jokes (it’s fashionable) Ramis seems to be after something deeper here, even if he does reach a time-worn conclusion. As an update of the Faust legend (and a 1967 Dudley Moore/Peter Cooke film of the same name), Bedazzled naturally has to tell us something about our relationship to forces greater than us. Though it starts off well in that regard, the movie falters once Elliott finishes wishing. Those scenes rip along, carrying the viewers on a giddy ride through a man’s ego. Once Elliott is done, though, we have to look at the moral questions involved. Instead, it tries to back away from its initial premise that the Devil actively works to corrupt mankind and steal souls away from God. Sure, we laughed at the concept in action, but we shouldn’t really have to look at the darker side of that, right?
In the 1967 film, Cook played a devil who was charming yet clearly evil, trying to persuade Moore that he was just misunderstood. With this version, though, Satan gets a happy ending; in Ramis’ own words, she’s “more naughty than evil.” (That should play really well in Salt Lake City and The Vatican; does Satan get a writing credit?) Rather than take a stand and risk offending anyone, we get reminded that this Bedazzled has a lot of money riding on it. And so the movie ends in pap, a victim of its deal with the studio Devil.
Despite that, Bedazzled makes for decent entertainment. It just could have been more.
This review originally appeared on DailyRadar.com.