We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
If ever there were two genres that don't seem to fit together, they're film noir and magic realism. The one grovels in gritty realism, the other dissolves into clouds of butterflies. Clare Peploe deserves credit for the uncompromising way in which she stage manages a head-on collision between them in "Rough Magic,'' an oddly enchanting fantasy that almost works.
The story, set in 1952, follows a magician's assistant named Myra (Bridget Fonda) as she flees from a Los Angeles murder scene and the arms of an arranged marriage. Her fiancee, a Howard Hughes type named Wyatt (D. W. Moffett) sends a private eye named Alex (Russell Crowe) after her, and then flies down himself, piloting his private DC-3. But by then she's fallen in love with Alex, and fallen into the clutches of a quack named Doc Ansell (Jim Broadbent), who sells a constipation cure (not that it doesn't work). The Doc realizes she's the real thing. So he arranges for her to go on a solo mission: She crosses a lake and engages in rituals with ancient shaman women, drinks a secret potion, and finds that she possesses real magic (she also lays a blue egg).
It can be dangerous, being a genuine magician. At one point she unintentionally turns an ominous Mexican bandit into a sausage, which is gobbled up by Doc Ansell's beloved terrier. At another point, she makes love with Alex so enthusiastically that they levitate. She kills someone without meaning to, but not to worry: Hardly anyone is dead for long in this movie.
My favorite dialogue exchange comes after she turns the guy into a sausage: "Those guys would have made a hamburger out of me,'' Alex says. She frowns and says thoughtfully, "Don't say things like that.'' "Rough Magic'' is based on a novel by the noir novelist James Hadley Chase, best known for "No Orchids for Miss Blandish.'' I haven't read it, but I'll bet nobody lays a blue egg in it. The screenplay, written by Peploe with Robert Mundy and William Brookfield, is curiously serious even in its most absurd moments; Bridget Fonda looks at times as if she thinks she may be in a comedy, but can't be sure. Neither can we. A whimsical fantasy may be the correct description.