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Friday October 20, 2000

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'Bedazzled' is spellbinding

Headline Photo

By Ian Caruth

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Fraser, diabolical cleavage make for Satanic fun

Cinematic depiction of the Devil is by nature a dicey business - should the Prince of Darkness be scary, silly, powerful, irritating or Al Pacino?

So maybe the last two are repetitive. Nevertheless, the proper way to portray the Evil One has eluded filmmakers since the birth of the medium - until "Bedazzled," the latest work from director Harold Ramis ("Caddyshack," Analyze This"). Ramis has crafted the most diabolical, horrifying portrayal of Satan yet - by making the Devil a really hot, barely clothed chick who never gets naked.

Elizabeth Hurley, wearing an array of enthralling fetishized outfits, plays the Devil in this breezy remake of Stanley Donen's 1968 cult comedy of the same name. Based very loosely on Goethe's "Faust," that film starred Peter Cook as a much more clothed Devil and Dudley Moore as a wistful Wimpyburger cook who gets seven wishes, each of which are humorously fouled by Cook's capricious Satan.

Ramis has updated the film for the modern age, changing Moore's lonely short-order chef into Brendan Fraser as Elliott, a geeky tech-support manquŽ. Infatuated with his co-worker Allison (Frances O'Connor), hated by his co-workers and socially inept, Elliott remarks that he would give his soul for a chance at Allison's love.

Enter the Devil. Complete with a punny Lamborghini Diablo, quick tongue and a cool, nightclub office, the Devil is basically the embodiment of America's idea of success - a trope that has been seen in other movies. Thankfully, there is more subtle, underplayed humor to be found in the variety of odd jobs the Devil performs, including a metermaid and a permissive teacher at a boys' school.

In exchange for his soul at the end of the deal, the Devil allows Elliott the standard seven wishes, and the chance to escape from each wish back to "reality" via a magical pager. One would think that Satan would supply at least a cell phone.

The premise is basically an excuse for a variety of comic setpieces placing Elliott and Allison in various archetypal situations - including scenes where Elliott is a Colombian druglord and another where he is the most sensitive man in the world who projectile-weeps uncontrollably at a beautiful sunset.

The premise is, admittedly, very thin. "Bedazzled" could have been a truly awful movie - if the writing and performing were not so sharp.

Fraser is a more appealing performer than Moore, and the script - by veteran scribes Ramis, Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan - plays to his strengths as both a goony physical comedian and a sympathetic romantic lead. Elliott's co-workers - who appear in some way in all of the wish scenarios - are very funny, with 7-Up pitchman Orlando Jones especially brilliant in his appearances as a dim-witted sportscaster and a snooty party guest.

Any film in which a character sells his soul is going to have either a real downer of an ending or one that seems like a cop-out, and "Bedazzled" falls squarely in the latter camp. Though no one would really like to see Fraser condemned to burn in Hell, the original "Bedazzled" featured an ending both more plausible and philosophically troubling than its update.

Despite this lame ending, Fraser is so appealing and the writing so brisk and sharp that "Bedazzled" ends up as fun, disposable entertainment which is all we ask from our theologically-questing films nowadays.