Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The many faces of Brendan Fraser

Welcome to the first installment of my new summer series, Double Jeopardy.

It's the opposite of what I was doing this spring, when I reconsidered critically acclaimed movies that I hadn't loved, to see if a second viewing improved my opinion of them. That series was called Second Chances. Now, I'll spend my Tuesdays reconsidering movies that I may have liked too much. They'll have to prove that my initial affection for them was justified.

To be clear, this is not just a guilty pleasures series. I genuinely don't know how I'll feel about these movies the second time. For that reason, I'm reconsidering only movies that I've seen exactly once -- much as I did for the Second Chances series. If I still liked a movie other people didn't like, even after two viewings, there's no need to go back for a third. It gets a pass.

And I thought the best place to start was with a movie I've owned for over five years, but had yet to re-watch until last Friday night.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived with a roommate for three years, from 2001 to 2004. It wasn't always the best living situation for either of us, but after I moved out, our friendship quickly recovered to where it was before we lived together. We did have some great times in the apartment, and one of our greater bonding moments was over the Brendan Fraser vehicle Bedazzled, directed by Harold Ramis. We tuned into it randomly on cable, expecting little from it, and ended up laughing our fool heads off. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, he gave it to me on DVD as a present, probably only half as a joke.

The shrink wrap did not even come off that DVD until this past Friday night, probably five to six years after the gift was presented. Suffice it to say that over the years, I've come to assume that we were fools, when we were laughing our fool heads off at that movie. Fraser has made more interchangeable broad comedies than any actor I can think of (see here for a consideration of that topic) -- why, in retrospect, did I have any reason to think Bedazzled was any different? I think I even tried to sell the DVD at one point, but they were only going to give me $2 for it, so I decided just to keep it.

I was initially hesitant to even suggest it as junk food viewing on a Friday night, after a long day in which my wife had two different exhausting doctor's appointments. That's how much my mind had mentally re-written my perspective on it, that I was embarrassed to even endorse it in a situation calling for mindless fun.

But I'm glad I did. It turned out to be just the right thing for my wife -- so much, in fact, that she repeated the sentiment the next morning.

Brief plot synopsis, if Bedazzled is inseparable in your mind from Fraser's other work (and why shouldn't it be): Fraser plays a dorky schlub whose co-workers can't stand him and who pines after an office beauty (Frances O'Connor) who never gives him a second thought. One night out at a bar, he meets a bombshell in a red dress (Elizabeth Hurley) who promises to give him all the happiness that has eluded him, if only he'll sign his soul over to her. (She's the devil, you see.) The loss of his soul seems like only a very distant threat, however, because first he'll get seven chances to wish his life into exactly what he wants it to be. Tellingly, she gives him a little red device with a keypad, where he'll type 6-6-6 if the wish isn't working out like he wanted it to. Needless to say, that's what happens -- again and again and again -- as the devil twists the semantics of his requests in ways where the actual phrasing of the wish is honored, but the spirit of the wish is not. Hijinx ensue.

I didn't see the original film on which Bedazzled was based, a 1968 movie of the same name directed by Stanley Donan and starring Dudley Moore. The devil is male in that one, but the film has plenty of sex appeal nonetheless in the person of Raquel Welch. Now I feel like I probably should see it, since I've seen the remake twice.

I did find it a bit slow at the beginning. It seemed like it was taking forever to get Fraser into his first wish, and the minutes passed extra slowly as I wondered if my wife's patience was being tried. But I felt pretty satisfied when the movie finally gets there and starts to take off. "Take off" is a bit of an exaggeration -- I don't want to oversell it. But it does give Fraser the opportunity to strut his stuff as he steps into a variety of different alternate lives that are in some way an interpretation of one of his wishes. Check out a quick display of them here:

I don't tend to think of Fraser as someone with range -- he's just generically wacky in every film. But this film, at least, gives him the chance to show the range of his wackiness. As a Columbian drug dealer, he does the whole five- to ten-minute scene in energetic Spanish. As the world's most sensitive person, he's blubbery and earnest. As a basketball player, he's macho, dumb, huge and peroxide blond. Each of these scenes (and the few other personalities that follow) showcase not only acting talent, but a smart production design, as Fraser looks radically different in each one. (In fact, special props to the visual effects department in making his basketball player look gargantuan compared to the other actors.)

Fraser gets good support from O'Connor and Hurley, particularly Hurley, who has playful fun with the devil role. She also gets to make exactly 18 costume changes in the movie, including pretty much every hot-girl Halloween costume in the store: sexy nurse, sexy meter maid, sexy attorney, sexy cop, sexy school teacher and sexy angel. When she's not a specific one of those, well, I guess she's just sexy model. Anyway, she shows good confidence and is more than just a pretty face.

The other supporting actors -- Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Tobby Huss and Miriam Shor -- also get off some good lines as they appear in each one of Fraser's new alternate lives. Huss and Jones are particularly funny in their scene as basketball announcers. There's even an unobtrusive "be careful what you wish for" message mixed in there for good measure.

I picked the wrong day to debut this feature, because now I've gotten really busy, and had to write this in multiple sittings. So before it gets any more disjointed, let me just close it off and turn my attention to my other duties.

Double Jeopardy verdict, Bedazzled: A light and enjoyable way to spend a Friday night, even if you haven't been sitting in doctor's offices all day.

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