Bedazzled opens with sweeping, high-speed shots of our planet and its denizens. When the camera pauses to isolate a particular person, a yellow tag gives a capsule description of the subject (i.e., “sleepy” or “anxious” or “cheats on his taxes”). It’s a kind of cinematic shorthand, and it got me thinking what a great innovation it would be in other films. Instead of spending all that time on silly ellipses of action and dialogue meant to give us information on the characters, why not just start with a Post-It note attached to everybody. For example, when American Beauty began, they could have just labeled Kevin Spacey “Disaffected Male Drone,” Annette Bening “Control Freak in Denial” and Mena Suvari “Exhibitionist Tart With a Tender Side.” Then we could have skipped the dead-as-disco first hour and jump straight into the important business of watching a plastic bag float in the wind. And think about what this approach could do for everyday life, as well. Imagine, ladies, how much easier first dates would be if the guy came to the door wearing a little yellow sign that said “really, REALLY loves his mother.” Think of all the time you’d save. In Bedazzled, though, the yellow notes tell us things about Elliot (Brendan Fraser) that we could have guessed from his short-sleeved plaid shirt and Members Only jacket. He’s a loser, a friendless sad sack who mixes an overbearing chumminess with a complete lack of confidence. Elliot’s in love with Alison (Frances O’Connor), an oblivious co-worker. But his declaration that he “would do anything to have that girl in my life” catches the ear of a British woman in a red dress (Elizabeth Hurley as the devil). She offers Elliot seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Since there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, Elliot takes the deal. Things proceed rather predictably from there, with Elliot imagining several fantastic utopian futures for himself and the devil inevitably screwing them up. This is a remake of a 1967 British picture (perhaps the only good movie Dudley Moore ever made), starring Peter Cook as a sinuously fey devil who looked great in suits and dispensed damnation with aplomb. Director Harold Ramis co-wrote the new version, and his allegory-free script relies a lot more on broad comedy, replacing ’60s social irony with stupid jokes — and some genuinely clever bits (like the one in which Elliot, wishing to become the most sensitive man in the world, gets dumped by his true love for a hairy guy with a van). Fraser’s best moments as Elliot come when he’s living out his various wishes — like the NBA star who uses a postgame interview to unleash a howlingly hilarious flood of sports cliches. Fraser’s capacity for straight-guy comedic timing usually overshadows his other gifts, which are put to good use in Bedazzled. But Hurley can’t quite pull off her role. She’s a serviceable actress at best and she relies on pure vampiness to keep us rooting for both principals. This schizophrenic part requires a certain slapsticky panache and madcap glee that demand more than just looking incredibly gorgeous in every one of her several-dozen outfits (yep, there’s just something about the ultimate Bond girl wearing a cheerleading outfit that awakens all kinds of politically incorrect lust one probably shouldn’t admit in print). Casting quirks aside, Bedazzled is a frequently entertaining, lightweight comedy that elucidates a simple moral with a minimum of preaching. Label it “slick,” “simple” and “predictable,” but see it for the Devil in the details.
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