A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Watching "Bedazzled," I was reminded of the ancient newspaper legend about the reporter sent to cover the Johnstown Flood. "God stood on a mountain top," he wrote, "and saw what his flood waters had wrought." His editor cabled back: Forget flood. Interview God. Why was I remembering this old story? Because, in the new comedy "Bedazzled," Brendan Fraser falls in love with Frances O'Connor and, to win her, sells his soul to the devil, who is played by Elizabeth Hurley. Forget girl, I'm thinking. Seduce Satan.
Not that Hurley is that good a Satan--just that she's the ranking babe in this movie. As Satan, she seems too composed and collected. A certain zaniness is required; Satan must have been quite a madcap to leave heaven in order to spend eternity as a troublemaker. In the original "Bedazzled" (1967), Peter Cook played Satan and Raquel Welch played Lust, one of the seven deadly sins. That 7-to-1 ratio between Satan's evil genius and its sinful building blocks is, I think, about right.
The new movie has been directed by Harold Ramis from a screenplay that uses the 1967 film more as inspiration than source. It is lacking in wickedness. It doesn't smack its lips when it's naughty. When its hero sells his soul to the devil, what results isn't diabolical effrontery, but a series of contract negotiations and consumer complaints. This is twice in two weeks (after the Winona Ryder exorcism movie "Lost Souls") that Satan loses on points.
The movie stars Brendan Fraser as Elliot, an office nerd whose goofy grin and effusive banalities send his co-workers into hiding. For three years he has dreamed of the lovely Alison (Frances O'Connor, splendid in "Mansfield Park"), who barely notices him. Then he meets the devil with a red dress on: This is Hurley, who offers him the standard contract, seven wishes for his soul. What always goes wrong with these deals is that the human words his request in the wrong way, and the sneaky devil tricks him. This is bad business. Since Satan wants to win souls, he (or she) should deliver magnificently on every promise, so that by number four or five, the satisfied customers are telling their friends, and Satan is getting pass-along business.