WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: Nerdy, nervous computer geek Elliot Richards is made one hell of an offer by the Devil in a Red Dress: 7 wishes for the measly cost of his soul. But Elliot discovers that the Princess of Darkness can never be trusted to keep up her end of the bargain, and concludes that she will never give him his deepest wish – to be with the girl of his dreams.
Marvellous though Peter Cook and Dudley Moore undoubtedly were on television, stage and record, as a double act they did not suit the medium of film; and Bedazzled fell distinctly flat despite the odd bright moment in their script. Nevertheless, the idea of a modern-day Faustian pact interested Stripes and Ghostbusters alumnus Harold Ramis sufficiently to co-write and direct this remake; having just seen the film, I have the question ‘In God’s name, why?’ hovering about my lips.
Since I am not going to get an answer, I had better explain Bedazzled to the uninitiated. Brendan Fraser is Elliot Richards, a boring, overbearing Tech Support guy whose colleagues do everything in their power to avoid him socially. Elliot is oblivious to all this, however, since all he really cares about is Alison (Frances O’Connor), another colleague who sadly doesn’t know he exists. Into Elliot’s life comes slinky temptress Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil Incarnate; she promises him everything he desires as long as he signs his soul away, but – just like in Pete and Dud’s version – there’s a catch to each:
- He’s a rich and powerful Columbian drug lord, but Alison is conducting an affair with her English teacher Raoul (cue lazy stereotyping, unamusing gunfights and pointless stunts)
- He’s a sensitive, weepy soul who gets sand kicked in his face, passed over by Alison for one of the bullies who promises to treat her badly
- He’s an incredibly tall and incredibly proficient basketball player, but sadly one with an incredibly small penis
- He’s a witty and successful writer who sweeps Alison off her feet, only to have their night interrupted by his gay lover (more stereotypes!)
- He’s the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States – only trouble is, he’s Abraham Lincoln and has a play to watch
- Oh, he’s been tricked out of one of his wishes when he bought himself a fast food meal, but…
it doesn’t really matter since Elliot refuses to make his seventh wish, earning him a stay in jail and advice from a mysterious stranger (Gabriel Casseus). The Devil gets nasty, but at the last minute Elliot wishes for Alison to have a happy life, the selfless act giving him a get-out clause.
While the jokes in the original Bedazzled were more miss than hit, there was at least a hint of intelligence about the rants against organised religion and modern society that is totally overlooked here in favour of fast cars, product placement and unconvincing special effects. None of the sketches raise so much as a chortle, and the linking scenes where Hurley (like Cook) causes petty mischief whilst granting wishes are equally humourless, the reason being that Liz Hurley is all-consumingly awful in the role of Satan.
She cannot act, she cannot ‘do’ being cross, she has no sense of humour, timing or irony, she has no chemistry with Fraser (gormless but harmless by comparison), and she barely connects with her surroundings. Worse still, despite the ridiculous and unnecessary amount of costume changes the viewer quickly comes to realise that she’s not even that attractive, just a big-lipped Sloane Ranger with a passable body and more phone numbers of important people than she has talent.
Seriously, if you thought she was ordinary in Austin Powers, that was a masterclass in comic acting compared to her witless posing here. In her defence, you might blame the scriptwriters, and I would too, or say that Cook was no actor either; true, but at least Cook gave off an air of malevolent haughtiness, whereas Hurley gives off…nothing at all.
Perhaps it is the scriptwriters who are more to blame, as they have smoothed off the harsher edges of Bedazzled – some of which were pretty nasty – to make a film where Elliot is not so much of a loser as Stanley Moon was and, perplexingly, the Devil is not such a bad egg after all (though Hurley’s acting stinks like a… okay, enough of that). And this is another crucial mistake: Ramis decides that what this story needs, like his brilliant Groundhog Day, is a little bit of heart, hence the cringe-making episode with Gabriel Casseus in the jail cell and the soppy He-Man-like speeches about making choices instead of merely wishing your life away.
But whereas Groundhog Day let Phil Connors come to his own conclusions, Bedazzled spells it out in clumsy pro-God moralising which is also a world away from the welcome, amoral fence-sitting of Pete and Dud’s original. Then, just when you think the film has come to a sensible conclusion as Elliot – older and wiser for his experiences – is rejected by an already-attached Alison, it goes and gives him a new neighbour called Nicole who is her exact double (as in also played by O’Connor), only with an annoying voice. Oh, as they say somewhere, puh-leeze.
I didn’t like 1967’s Bedazzled, despite admiring its stars and director very much; but it’s a damn sight better than this version, which I have scored as generously as I have on the basis that it is rarely anything more than mildly offensive, except (one last time!) where Ms Hurley’s ‘acting’ is concerned. Avoid at all costs unless you have a particular thing for posh English totty, and watch one of Ramis’s decent/earlier films instead.