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A remake that's worthy of the original - worth seeing if the all recent bad Devil movies haven't scared you away.

By Steve Biodrowski     October 19, 2000

Hollywood churns out so many remakes that sometimes you wonder whether they have any new ideas left; even worse, they botch so many of them that you wonder why they even bother. Then, suddenly, a good one turns up, and you realize that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with remakes, as long as they're well done and feature some kind of inspiration equivalent to that of the original. 20th Century Fox's new take on Bedazzled fulfills those requirements.

To be fair, the original version of Bedazzled wasn't truly all that 'original,' being a comedic variation on the old Faustian theme of selling one's soul to Satan. But it was a hysterically funny vehicle for its two stars, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who concocted a modern-day scenario about a hapless short order cook (Moore) whose yearning for a date with a waitress (Eleanor Bron) leads him to exchange his soul for seven wishes. The premise allowed the comedy duo of Moore and Cook to string together a series of vignettes that allowed them to show off their versatility by taking on a variety of different personae. Along the way, we meet Satan's helpers (the Seven Deadly Sins, including Raquel Welch, typecast as 'Lust'), and even the film's approach to the basics of theology is interesting in an amusing kind of way.

Unfortunately, many of today's viewers are likely to be unaware that there even is an original, but the filmmakers behind this new version have not relied on audience ignorance as en excuse for creative laziness. Instead, they've taken the essential premise and fashioned a new story that retains few of the details while finding new sight gags that help this film stand on its own. You won't get to see the Seven Deadly Sins personified this time, but you will get to see star Brendan Fraser metamorphosize into everything from a Colombian drug lord to a gigantic pro basketball player.

The remake is set in San Francisco instead of London naturally, and the lead character has been turned into a corporate drone in an office building, but he remains hopelessly in love with a woman he barely has the nerve to address. In desperation, he signs a pact that he thinks will enable him finally to have the girl of his dreams, but, of course, things don't go as planned.

You probably don't have to be told that the reason for seven wishes is that they don't work out, so Elliot (Fraser) has to keep trying again and again, while each time the Devil (Elizabeth Hurley) outwits him, giving what he asks for instead of what he really wants. As in the original, each wish is twisted in some unexpected way, and the results provide lots of laughter. The nature of the wishes diverges quite a bit from the old film, but what truly distinguishes the new version visually is the way it takes advantage to modern day makeup and effects technology to portray Elliot taking on not only new personalities but also completely different physical characteristics.

The technical work here is splendid in the best possible way: it's totally convincing but not at all distracting. Fraser's performance is neither buried under makeup nor outshined by special effects. Instead, he adopts accents, postures and mannerisms that bring these different versions of Elliot to life while maintaining the sense of a continuing character underneath the external changes. It's a totally showy kind of opportunity for an actor, providing lots of room for grandstanding, and Fraser meets the challenge perfectlyby making it look as if it's not a challenge at all. The guy really is every bit as funny on screen as many comedians-turned-film-stars, and he is also a genuinely better actor than most of that ilk. (Just thank god the part didn't go to someone like Jim Carrey, who would have seized the opportunity to pull out all the stops and overwhelmed the roll. Come to think of it, there are some general similarities between the early scenes of this film and The Mask, but trust me, Bedazzled is better.)

Handling herself almost equally well is Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil. A far cry from Cooke's deadpan portrayal in the original, Hurley's Satan is a good-humored temptress who really seems to enjoy her work. It may be a bit of an old Hollywood trick, casting a Brit as the baddie, but it certainly works; the English actress's elocution gives a ring of class to the part (an echo of the original?), and there's something slightly lean and hungry about her good looks that lends a perfectly predatory air to her performance as the 'Princess of Darkness.' She is perhaps not quite as versatile an actor as Fraser, but what she is called upon to do, she does very well indeed. (The new film markedly tones down the Devil's appearances in different guises within the wishesalthough that may have been an editorial decision, judging from some stills--so Hurley, unlike Cook, doesn't get to play a variety of eccentrics.)

Working behind the camera, director Harold Ramis may not have credentials that quite equal those of Stanley Donen (the director of the original, better known for his musicals like Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), but Ramis does know how to handle comedy, and he has shown a remarkable aptitude for mixing it with fantasy (he co-wrote and co-starred in Ghostbusters and helmed both Groundhog Day and the unfairly neglected Multiplicity).

You have to give screenwriter Larry Gelbart credit for updating the script and fashioning it into a more dramatic shape (Elliot doesn't just escape from his seven wishes with his soul intact; he emerges as a better person for having gone through the trials and tribulations), and you have to acknowledge the importance of the lead performances and the technical effects; but when the elements gel into a solid whole...well, you have to give the director some credit for succesfully navigating shifts in tone from silly to satirical, from sentimental to serious. Under his guidance, Bedazzled doesn't always hit the right notes (occasionally, Satan just seems too nice--more mischievous than malevolent), but the film is a more sustained and consistent effort than his previous blockbuster success, Analyze This. Let's just hope audiences haven't been scared away by a slew of bad Devil movies lately, because this one's really good.


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