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*Bedazzled (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

According to my trusty Encyclopedia Britannica (from which I believe everything that I read), the legend of Dr. Faustus has been around since the Middle Ages, and like all good legends, it just doesn't die. Apparently, Faust was a necromancer who sold his soul in exchange for knowledge and power.

Fast forward 500 years, put the dark German tale in sunny Hollywood hands, and you have Bedazzled, a funny comedy starring Brendan Fraser (although, actually, this a remake of a 1967 movie by the same name starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore). Fraser plays Elliot, a pitiful technical support geek who is lonely and overly eager to please. Elliot is in love, at a great distance, with Alison who also works at his company but who has never noticed him. When he is unable even to strike up a casual conversation with Alison at an after-work watering hole, Elliot despairs. "I would do anything to have Alison in my life," he whines.

What an opening for the devil. Along comes Elizabeth Hurley in a tiny red dress and offers him his heart's desire -- in exchange for his soul, of course. Elliot gets seven wishes and a good out: If ever his wish doesn't work out, he need only dial for help on his little devil pager. Of course, things don't work out -- in hilarious fashion. His first wish -- to be rich and powerful and married to Alison -- leaves him a cuckolded Colombian drug lord. His second wish is an attempt to improve on the first, but because the devil is holding the keys to the scene, you can just imagine.

The real delight of this film is Brendan Fraser himself. Each time he finds himself in a new ridiculous situation, be it as drug lord or seven-and-a-half-foot NBA star, Frasier demonstrates amazing comic talent, using a very plastic face, a perpetually surprised expression, and a slightly awkward physicality to produce the radical transformations.

Elizabeth Hurley as the devil is less intriguing. Because her role is largely didactic -- this is what you can do, this is what you can't, this is what people think, aren't people silly? -- she doesn't have a whole heckuva lot of material to play with. She doesn't help her quandary, however, with the ridiculous strut that she affects. But hey, if you had sold your soul for a body like that, you can do anything you want with it.

The film almost falls flat at the ending, where the writers couldn't seem to resist the temptation to moralize and give us a good old-fashioned talking-to: work hard, be good to others, blah blah blah. Fortunately, however, this blip doesn't destroy the film, it just makes the comedown from hilarity a little abrupt.

When the writers conjure Mephistopheles themselves, they could just ask for a little more comic courage, and that would be enough. Otherwise, Bedazzled is a genial comedic take on Faust, and a good showing by a talented actor.

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