In a year of dashed expectations, Bedazzled is no surprise. The latest and far from last incarnation of the current infatuation with evil incarnate, Bedazzled pits Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser) against the Devil (Elizabeth Hurley). In exchange for his soul, Elliot gets seven wishes, but can he successfully use them to win the heart of his unrequited love, Alison (Frances O’Connor)?

There’s a lot of wit behind the camera; the movie is based on the 1967 Dudley Moore/Peter Cook original, and this version is co-written and directed by the very funny Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day). And while we’re treated to a number of humorous flare-ups buoyed by Fraser’s sweet spirit, it falls so short as a whole that it seems generous to call the movie trifling.

Early captions identify Elliot as a desperate, eager to please and lonely man doing time behind a customer-service headset at Synedyne (abbreviated Syn — get it?), but he’s not some shrinking violet a la Jim Carrey sans mask in The Mask. He’s aggressively annoying, so obliviously out of touch that he’s really just riffing on Rob Schneider’s Rich, the Makin’ Copies Guy from “SNL.” He garners only a boutique-slice-of-cake sized sliver of our affections at the onset, and withholding it practically kills the movie in and of itself.

For as Elliot goes through the so-clever iterations of his wishes — “rich and powerful” yields a drug lord, “basketball star” yields an eight-foot behemoth with, um, steroid problems (playing for the San Francisco Diablos — get it?) — he’s also becoming “best friends” with the Devil and discovering he’d be all right if, you know, he’d just have some faith in himself. At least, that’s what the characters say at the end of the movie, and it’s a good thing they do, because growth like that isn’t apparent from just watching Elliot throughout the movie.

The you-don’t-need-wishes-to-be-who-you-want-to-be thing is embarassingly played out, and Ramis and company don’t make matters any better by making self-confidence what Elliot gains from his wishes. It’s not self-confidence the Elliot from the film's first scenes lacks — his ostracization stems from his overbearing overconfidence and lack of basic social skills. After his initial turn at being a drug lord, each of Elliot’s wishes gives him a personality out of character with his character, and there’s no sense of cumulative self-improvement from one to the other.

At the end of the movie, for instance, Elliot gets rough with someone mocking him, and it’s out of nowhere — we never saw him picked on prior to the deal, and the transformation from rabid geek to suave-but-tempermental guy isn’t what the film chronicles. That being the case, the movie becomes just a string of loosely related skits. They’re funny, but there’s no real payoff.

This deficit is only enhanced by the fuzzy religion — mainstream movies simply can’t tackle anything more complicated than the Force, and so Bedazzled’s God and Devil have such diffuse touches that even the inherent Faustian tension is slack. When Alison quips that “secular humanism is yummy,” you can tell the filmmakers have eaten themselves into a bellyache.

Ramis’s Groundhog Day also centered on a loser who got to do it all over again until he got it right, and Fraser seems able to bring everything to this movie that Bill Murray did to that one. But Murray’s misogynist weatherman was simply a better character, and his quest to improve himself seemed genuine. Even with Fraser’s star qualities and an admirably solid performance from Hurley, Ramis fritters away everything Bedazzled has to offer except obvious puns (the devil operates a club called dv8 — get it?). It’s a damned shame.

Flak Magazine, October 5, 2000