A movie actor as ridiculously perfect-looking as Brendan Fraser might be easy for male critics to resent if not for two things: He’s genuinely smart (any interview with him reveals his articulate intelligence), and he’s willing and eager to make himself look like a complete nerd. Fraser has a healthy sense of humor about himself, as he demonstrated in Dudley Do-Right and 1999’s flashy remake of The Mummy, and in another remake — Bedazzled, starring Fraser as a dork who sells his soul to the devil — he pulls out all the stops.
Fraser begins as the hapless Elliott Richards, a desperately lonely cubicle drone whose hearty stabs at connecting with anyone usually get the opposite result. Elliott’s dream is to win the heart of beautiful coworker Allison (Frances O’Connor), who knows he exists when he’s standing in front of her, but then quickly forgets afterward. Elliott makes the mistake of muttering that he’d give anything to have her love; immediately, announced by Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing,” a helpful figure enters Elliott’s life — Satan herself, in the form of Elizabeth Hurley.
Satan offers Elliott seven wishes in exchange for his soul (“You’ll never miss it,” she insists). Unsurprisingly, the fair Allison figures prominently in all of Elliott’s wishes, which usually backfire because Elliott’s requests leave a lot of margin for Satanic embellishment. When Elliott asks to be rich and powerful, he finds himself retooled as a Colombian drug dealer (“I can speak Spanish!” says Elliott gleefully, in Spanish). When that doesn’t work out, Elliott asks to be the world’s most sensitive man, or a really big and athletic man, or a really sophisticated and witty man, or the President — all with farcical results that never achieve the basic goal (Allison).
Bedazzled was directed by Harold Ramis (Multiplicity, Analyze This) from a script he worked on with Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan; it’s a glancing remake of the Dudley Moore/Peter Cook cult comedy from 1967. In and of itself, this Bedazzled is decent enough entertainment as written, though many will regret the movie’s eleventh-hour detour into pieties; it turns out, naturally, that Elliott must learn to be himself if he hopes to find love. (It’s a bit more complex than that, as Ramis knew when he made Groundhog Day.)
Brendan Fraser, though, redeems just about everything. My favorite of his creations here was the over-sensitive Elliott, who can’t stop weeping at the beauty of a sunset (“When is that sun going to set?” he finally wails). Second place goes to Elliott the sweaty, IQ-challenged basketball star, who’s challenged in other areas as well (the screenwriters have given him pitch-perfect sports clichés to spout to the cameras after a triumph on the courts). I also enjoyed Elliott as an urban sophisto, though this segment ends on a somewhat homophobic note. Others may object to Elliott as a Latino drug lord, though Fraser plays it with such exuberance that it comes across as more an homage than a stereotype — he reminded me of Alfonso Arau as the cheerful paperback-romance fan in Romancing the Stone.
As for Elizabeth Hurley, she’s not quite an actress; her diabolical shtick, at best, is a notch or two below Elvira, and without Cassandra Petersen’s self-aware, self-satirizing pulchritude. She gets a gently teasing rapport going with Fraser, though; late in the game, when he refers to her as his “best friend,” it doesn’t sound totally stupid. Hurley keeps herself amused throughout — she seems to be tickling her dialogue on its tummy. Bedazzled lacks the comic ingenuity of Harold Ramis’ best previous comedies, but it’s good fluff. You won’t be dazzled, but you’ll be entertained.