Right here you will find the best review of this film on the Internet. No, I'm quite serious. Judge Mike Pinsky has surpassed even himself. Read his excellent review of this Brendan Fraser / Elizabeth Hurley comedy, directed by Harold "I collect molds, spores, and fungus" Ramis.
"It's not easy being the Barbra Streisand of evil, you know."
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud forwards the notion that all human action is motivated by desire. It drives us, gives us purpose, leads us forward. We seek to acquire what we do not have. But those things upon which we focus our desire are really distractions: the real lack is inside us. What tempts us in the outside world only covers for deeper needs we hide within.
Facts of the Case
Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser) is the quintessential geek, cheerfully answering calls at a technical help desk, imposing himself on his viciously disinterested coworkers, and mooning from afar over the prettiest woman in the office (Frances O'Connor). But when the Devil herself (Elizabeth Hurley) offers Elliot seven chances to catch the girl of his dreams, will he succumb to temptation and lose his soul?
The legend of Faust has its origins in the Middle Ages, from regional chapbooks designed to show moral lessons to the local peasants. Christopher Marlowe picked up the idea for a play, then later Goethe, who dressed up the story with a grandiose romantic subplot. Faust has always been about desire, which in the medieval version is a monstrous sin. In Goethe's hands, Faust's plight, that of a man who sells his soul to the Devil and must continually strive for greater heights (because surrender would mean his final end), became a story about the appeal of desire, as well as its necessity (a fact which Freud would explore much later). Like the perverse sexual allure of Dracula, the Devil in Faust slowly became the real hero of the piece, offering humanity the opportunity to strive and grow. And Faust's story began to reshape itself as satire.
Harold Ramis' remake of Bedazzled (the 1967 original starred Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, but little of that surreal but sharply timed sketch film has been recreated here) begins with a witty time-lapsed sequence, as the Devil looks over the world and labels our virtues and vices. Finding an eager sap, the camera moves in for the kill: Elliot Richards tries too hard, but seems surrounded by characters willing to take advantage of him at every turn. And the Devil, in the form of every clichéd male sexual fantasy imaginable—cheerleader, schoolteacher, candy striper, meter maid—is more than willing to take advantage of Elliot's naïveté as well.
But Bedazzled is not really a film about Evil (and Good, in the form of a wise prison sage, seems almost an afterthought). It is a film about temptation: what tempts Elliot (wealth, fame, sex), but also what Elliot might use to tempt his intended love Alison. And Elliot's constant misreading of Alison's desires (helped along a bit by the Devil's impish sense of humor). The Devil herself embodies temptation, as she costumes herself in male fantasies.
Elizabeth Hurley slinks through her role as the Devil with obvious relish. The part could have easily been little more than a fashion plate, eye candy showing off a sexy body in designer clothes. But Hurley carries off each new look as if she is deliberately teasing the audience, offering that temptation her character is charged with providing, but withdrawing it at the last moment in order to establish who really has the power. She is obviously enjoying herself, and her measured enthusiasm helps carry the part.
Brendan Fraser, who has displayed strong presence in a handful of films (Gods and Monsters and The Mummy) and an almost confounding woodenness in others (Dudley Do-Right), shows great versatility, immersing himself in each sketch. The different versions of "Elliot" are not enough to carry a movie alone, but each sketch works well for its length. He easily slips into a boisterous Columbian drug lord, a weepy redheaded simp, and even a remarkable turn as a freakish basketball player that looks like a cross between Jake Busey and a Ray Harryhausen Cyclops.
The supporting cast also acquits themselves quite well. Orlando Jones, Paul Edelstein, Toby Huss, and Miriam Shor pop in and out of Elliot's wish worlds in a variety of guises. The funniest of these is easily Jones and Huss as two endlessly babbling sportscasters during Elliot's "sports hero" wish. An extended improvisation with these two characters is included in the extras.
Only one other deleted scene is included for the film, as an Easter egg (go to the extras menu and look for the little devil on Elizabeth Hurley's shoulder): a long (10-minute) sequence in which Elliot wishes to be a self-destructive rock star. The result, a sort of cross between Sid and Nancy and This Is Spinal Tap is the darkest and most disturbing scene in the movie, and certainly does not fit with the slick tone of the rest of the film. But it is easily the closest to real satire the film gets.
Two commentary tracks are also included. The first features director Harold Ramis, whose shows his usual dry wit only briefly and reserves most of his comments for technical descriptions or explaining the obvious. The second track features Elizabeth Hurley and producer Trevor Albert. In truth, both tracks could have been easily combined into one excellent track, eliminating the stretches of silence and redundant exposition. Two very brief looks at the scoring sessions with composer David Newman appear: these probably could use a bit more explanation for viewers unfamiliar with the process of scoring a feature film. Highlighting the art design, the disc features a set of production stills showing off various set designs and costumes, as well as an interview with costume designer Deena Appel, who notes the use of high-profile designers (Versace, Armani, et cetera) in dressing Elizabeth Hurley. An HBO featurette on the making of the film (mostly studio puffery) and the usual trailers and TV spots round out the extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film is not without its glaring flaws, most noticeably its final act. As I noted above, Bedazzled is really a film about the cycle of temptation between Elliot and Alison, and the realization that Alison is really an empty shell. But the film seems to forget this in its final act, tagging on a brusque climax in which Elliot is "saved" from his contract through means by which—well, it just doesn't work. The last act of the film falls apart and nearly brings a sour taste to the whole business. Alison's shallowness is too lightly dismissed, Elliot's salvation is too pat, and everything is tied up in a neat bow. All of this is entirely out of character with the way an effective satire should work, where blame should be equally shared among all parties and nobody gets off easily.
Maybe some of this was more evident in some earlier cut of the movie, and both Harold Ramis in his commentary track and the trailers themselves suggest that a considerable amount of this film was left on the cutting room floor. So where are the cut scenes on this disc? Additional footage (especially the scenes described by Ramis) might go far to undercut our sympathy for Alison and perhaps even suggest that Elliot's "happy ending" might just be another temptation placed in his path. The rock-star sequence certainly does its best to make both Elliot and Alison look monstrous, but it seems to have come from a completely different movie and still does not solve the problem of the script's deus ex machina in the last act.
Sure, test audiences tend to like their endings nicely packaged, and that will do for those first couple of weeks at the box office. But a sharper ending to this film makes all the difference between being a film worth owning and rewatching and yet another ephemeral Hollywood product. Compare the screenplay to Bedazzled with Ramis' similarly themed Groundhog Day. In that earlier film, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) develops organically through his experiences, not only learning what makes his desired Rita (Andie MacDowell) tick, but what makes him tick. In the end, he wins because he learns more about himself than simply how to manipulate other people—but that knowledge is earned the hard way. In Bedazzled, Elliot never seems to reach any sort of epiphany (except what is handed to him by "divine intervention"), and his salvation becomes muted when combined with our awareness that Alison is not worth the sacrifice he makes for her. And then Elliot is handed his victory on a silver platter, without really having earned it.
Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser strive bravely with a script that ultimately bails out on them. The film is worth watching for their performances, and for the great sketches that pepper the story until its final act collapse. In short, you will likely enjoy the film for a rental, but you may find it lacks the substance for repeated viewings. Given the pedigree on the screenplay, with initial drafts by Larry Gelbart (the TV series "M*A*S*H," Tootsie, and Barbarians at the Gate), Harold Ramis (need we mention Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters?), and polish by Peter Tolan (The Larry Sanders Show and some pretty sharp stuff on Denis Leary's new show The Job), how could this have gone wrong? Maybe—and somebody had to say this—the Devil made them do it.
Somebody is certainly to blame for the messy script. This court orders that Fox executives be tortured in the fiery pits of Hell until they admit who spoiled a fine premise and talented cast and crew with this average Hollywood filler instead of a satire on a par with Harold Ramis' earlier work.
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