Logline: A be-careful-what-you-wish-for fable about geeky Elliot Richards, who in his attempt to win the heart of a beautiful coworker is granted seven wishes by the Devil. As would be expected, his wishes don’t turn out well.

With this project, we have entered the sluggish mid-autumn movie season, where middle-level, moderately advertised and mostly unimportant movies are thrown to the masses, hoping to cover up the hole between the big-budget summer and the awards-grabbing winter. I don’t despise months like January or September as much as many critics do, as I believe that if you look through the cracks of “off-season cinema,” you’ll find hidden gems. They’re often small films that would be buried in other seasons. And you feel good, and life is good, and everything is good.

Bedazzled isn’t one of those gems. Hell, I didn’t even see it in theatres. I saw it months later on an airplane from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. I was on so I could participate in the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, or PYIC. (Basically, yes, I was present at the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush, probably less than 200 feet from the man, and in hindsight, I should have been more worried.) I made barely more than a chuckle for the entire film. Except for exactly one moment, after which I became that weird guy on a plane who’s laughing like an idiot at something you probably aren’t watching, aren’t listening to, and probably aren’t even aware that a movie is playing.

And I laughed again at the exact same moment this time. It’s where the Sensitive Elliot version of himself bawls uncontrollably at the sunset for the third and final time, having lost the girl of his dreams by being a pussy. And I laughed more this time around, ten years later. It was a surprise, honestly. American PG-13 comedies, especially from the late-1990s to now, work by being completely unthreatening studio products, cotton candy flicks that are fun and kind of tasty in a weird way, but then dissolves immediately. And I’m convinced most of them are not meant to be watched twice. Modern studio releases are now defined almost entirely by their box office intake in the first week, basically tricking people into desiring this product and paying full price for a Saturday night show, and Bedazzled did all right for itself, making back twice its budget in international sales. (Not too shabby.)

So why did I laugh? A few reasons.

1. I firmly believe that Brendan Fraser is a truly gifted comedic actor. Yeah yeah. He’s all brilliant in Gods & Monsters and School Ties and stuff like that, and he does well with greenscreen nonsense like the Mummy films, but we all know that his best work is Encino Man. He’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but nobody can accuse him of underplaying his roles. Here, Airheads, even freakin’ George of the Jungle, he’s giving it his all. Sometimes I think he just does things to make his kids giggle, and I’m okay with that. And being given multiple roles, each with very specific kinds of silliness, is delightful for me in the dumbest, most nostalgic, I-like-Pauly-Shore-movies kind of way. As my wife pointed out, of course he and Jenna Elfman were perfect fits for Looney Tunes: Back in Action, because they’re both cartoons.

2. The ensemble of Elliot’s coworkers who show up in all of his “wish fantasies” do their best trying to steal the movie from Fraser, and other than Orlando Jones (still of 7-Up commercial fame), I was unaware of the other three cast members. Now, I’m shocked at how great of a job director Harold Ramis did in putting together the three other people, whose work I’ve come to greatly admire over the last decade. That would be Toby Huss (Carnivale, voice actor on King of the Hill, great improv actor), Miriam Shor (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Swingtown) and Paul Adelstein (the sex-addicted pediatrician Cooper Freedman on guilty pleasure Private Practice). Shor gets the short straw, only showing up in the “real world” and in two wish fantasies, but the three men really dig their heels in at every opportunity. Adelstein, who between Private Practice and his double-crossing federal agent role in Prison Break never made me consider him to be a comedic actor, might be the biggest surprise, especially as the traitorous Roberto in the drug dealer wish fantasy.

3. I’m a Harold Ramis apologist. Actually, you know what? Screw that. I think Harold Ramis is a great comedy director. Groundhog Day is now considered a classic and he’s responsible for Vacation and Caddyshack, but I am an unreasonably huge fan of Multiplicity. And let’s not forget Stuart Saves His Family and The Ice Harvest, which are just the kinds of gems of which I was speaking earlier. And so Bedazzled feels warm and comfortable to me. It’s nothing spectacular, but it is what it is. And it’s certainly not his worst film (tie between Year One and Analyze That, although the former did have a first act that made me guffaw.) The point is, Dr. Egon Spengler rules your face.

4. I miss the Bay Area, and while this film views San Francisco in a way that many mainstream movies continue to view San Francisco (i.e. incorrectly), I can’t complain about being reminded of my native land. And yes, according to this film, a gateway to hell is located in Oakland, and that’s goddamn funny. (Although the film location is actually Treasure Island.) But please, for the love of Jeebus, if somebody is driving from the city to the East Bay, they are not on the top level of the Bay Bridge. Even The Graduate does shit like this.

5. The line “Don’t you think that secular humanism is yummy.” I want to hug which of the three screenwriters wrote that line.

The movie is better than I thought it was. What can I say? Fraser made me laugh. And Elizabeth Hurley didn’t completely suck like I thought she did. But I still think another, better actress (you know, an actual actress) would have been vastly preferable. At no point is Hurley ever scary. I have no ideas who should have replaced her, but you know I’m right.

And dammit, I should have planned ahead and watched the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore original 1967 film upon which this is based. That probably would have changed everything.

Shit.

Free-Floating Thoughts

  • There’s actually a whole extra sequence that was cut from the film, and you can find it on the DVD. (IMDb will tell you how.) It’s another wish fantasy sequence where Elliot gets to be a heavy metal singer filled with booze and drugs. And it’s extremely unfunny. If you have the disc, maybe pop it in and see what a film’s editor has to go through.
  • The indoors of the devil’s nightclub looks a lot like The Apple, but with a hot tub.
  • The Devil: How would you like to make one simple decision that’ll change your life forever? Elliot: Ok, I’m glad Scientology works for you but…
  • Laughed way too hard at the large contract falling from the sky and hitting Elliot in the nuts.
  • When they mapped out the wish fantasy sequences, was one card called “Extremely Tall Basketball Player with Tiny Penis”?
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