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Review: 'Practical Magic' cute, but not bewitching

Web posted on: Friday, October 16, 1998 2:52:09 PM

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Take two very high-profile actresses -- in this case Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman -- put them in a pot with a plot about witches, stir in a little romance, add a dramatic on-the-road "Thelma & Louise"-type twist, throw in a little pinch of "The Exorcist," and mix well with a few old episodes of "Bewitched" and you have "Practical Magic," a film that is the cinematic equivalent of silly putty.

Don't get me wrong. "Practical Magic" isn't a bad movie. It's just not particularly good. Bullock and Kidman play Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who happen to be witches. Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest play Jet and Frances, their eccentric aunts. You know they're eccentric because they dress funny and serve chocolate cake for breakfast.

Theatrical preview for "Practical Magic"

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Paul's Pix: "Practical Magic"

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There's just one little problem. Their family is cursed. Three hundred years ago one of their witchie-poo ancesters got peeved at her no-good lover and put a curse on him. But that wasn't the end of it. Any man for the rest of time who is loved by an Owens woman is doomed to an untimely death. The two sisters deal with this problem in their own unique ways, which provides the comedy, drama and romance in this slightly goofy movie.

Aims for every genre, hits none

"Practical Magic" is aimed like a heat-seeking missile at a female audience. But the trouble with this film is it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. A drama? A comedy? A supernatural thriller? Actually it wants to be all three, and ends up being none of the above.

There's also a very strange lack of magic in this film about witches. They light a couple of candles by breathing on them, and they stir their drinks without touching them, but that's about it. You get a whole lot more hocus-pocus in an average episode of "Bewitched."

Actor/producer Griffin Dunne has just recently turned director. This is his second feature film (the first was "Addicted To Love"). So far he's proving to be competent, but uninspired. Can you say TV movie?

This film is also a big waste of time for two extremely talented women. Wiest and Channing have absolutely nothing to do.

Now, during the "Thelma & Louise" and "Exorcist" portions of this film, Croatian actor Goran Visnjic gets to chew up the scenery, and he's not bad. He made his American debut in the film "Welcome To Sarajevo" and also appeared with George Clooney and Kidman in "The Peacemaker."

Then there's Aidan Quinn playing the out-of-town cop who falls in love with Bullock's character. Quinn is one of my favorite actors, but he looks strangely bloated and is sporting what looks like second chin. Not a good look for a leading man.

This film looks like it was a whole lot more fun to make then it is to watch. There are moments that work, and spending a couple of hours with Bullock and Kidman is always a pleasure. Okay, Kidman's "Portrait of a Lady" was a sleeping pill disguised as a movie, and Bullock's "Speed II" was dead in the water. But I digress. Ultimately, "practical"..."magic" is neither.

"Practical Magic" is rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality and intense thematic elements. 105 minutes.

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