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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000


Temptation in a red dress

Elizabeth Hurley plays the devil in this one. Somehow, that's not surprising. In fact, she fits so snugly into the role it's a wonder why no one ever thought of putting her there before. She's a snazzy, sexy, Versace-clad devil with her own car, a Lamborghini Diablo. Put her picture on Tabasco bottles and stock prices are likely to go through the roof.

Director and comedy impresario Harold Ramis should be credited for this brilliant stroke of casting in his new movie, "Bedazzled." Paired with Hurley is Brendan Fraser, as the loping, moping PC nerd, who agrees to that time-honored deal of exchanging his soul for seven wishes. Light and thin as a langue de chat biscuit, "Bedazzled" is nevertheless, to borrow a line from the movie, "extremely yummy."

Elliot (Fraser) works as a "technical support adviser" for a San Francisco computer company, which means he spends his hours sitting in a cubicle, soothing gruntled customers over their PC glitches. Elliot has "Dork" and "Sucker" pasted all over his clean, white forehead, and though his bedtime reading is "How to Be Popular," colleagues shun him, women ignore him and Alison (Frances O'Connor), a k a the Girl of His Dreams, doesn't realize he exists.

Then one night, the Devil (Hurley) pops in, wearing something red and dazzling, and offers to change his life. "You get seven enormous wishes," she says. "And I get your one, piddling little soul."

Elliot hesitates for about 10 seconds, then signs on the dotted line. From there on, he runs the gamut of the traditional seven wishes, all the things we've been taught in fairy tales as stuff that does not work out. You know, like "rich and powerful," "popular, articulate and rich," "professional athlete and rich," "sensitive, sincere and rich."

Strangely, none of these wishes provide any satisfaction, much less bring him closer to the ever elusive Alison. The Devil, on the other hand, has a ball at Elliot's expense. As he becomes more and more disappointed, she turns on the charm and cajoles him into more foolery (just like the Bible warned us).

"Oh come on," she coos, wearing something red and clinging, with snakes coiled around her chest. "Do I look like the kind of person who would trick you?"

For a while, Hurley's rep in Hollywood had mostly been "Hugh Grant's girlfriend," but she came into her own after sizzling performances in the "Austin Powers" series and the world realized she was not only drop-dead gorgeous but a sport with a sense of humor. According to movie mags she and Hugh have parted ways but if "Bedazzled" is any indication, the loss is entirely his. Visions of prostrating yourself before her wicked red heels, saying "Manipulate me, torture me, twist me around your pointy little finger!" will assail you throughout the movie. Hugh, you were one lucky guy.

Sadly, however, in the last 20 minutes the movie runs out of steam as the Devil runs out of badness. She even turns a little sentimental and preachy, which is totally undeserving of Hurley's performance thus far. Plus, one of the last looks we get of her is in a navy blue suit carrying a briefcase -- is that totally unfair or what?

And like all the other fairy-tale characters who seemed dumb when we were 7 and excessively dumb in adulthood, Elliot finally learns (with stars in his eyes), that "It's not the goal that matters, it's how you get there." This is exactly the sort of cop-out sap that makes me glum and weary and needing a stiff drink.

Still, you're bound to forgive Ramis, for the sake of the Devil and her outfits and the many chuckles provided by Alison. O'Connor is the other find in this picture, as she assumes the various dream figures in Elliot's seven wishes.

You'll love her as a sports writer who interviews pro basketball player Elliot in his locker room: "After such a game, you must be feeling really, really big, I mean your ego must be so . . . enormous." And she rolls her goo-goo-googly eyes and giggles with naughty abandon.

Elliot, with just a towel wrapped around his middle, would love to reply wittily, but all he can come out with is: "Well you know, there's no 'I' in a game. You just gotta to give one hunnered an' 10 percent and you gotta go in there and do your best. It's all for the team."

So you see, this is what comes of making deals with the One Downstairs.

"Bedazzled" is playing at Hibiya Eiga and other theaters.

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