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PRACTICAL MAGIC

by: Scott Renshaw

Practical Magic cast a sort of spell over me, but I don't think it's the one a film-maker might have intended. Rather than enchantment, it induced paralysis - I couldn't come up with a single decent way to start writing about it. It's not so much a movie as it is a big bubbling pot confusion into which a mess of ingredients have been tossed. Among the things included in this concoction:

Shades of Thelma & Louise. The story focuses on a pair of sisters (genetic, not just metaphorical) named Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) Owens, who come from a long line of witchcraft practitioners including the maiden aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest) who raised them. Part of that legacy involves a curse on the men in their lives, leading Sally to a tragic longing for true love and Gillian to a pursuit of love-less affairs. The whispers Thelma & Louise come when the two sisters kill an abusive lout (Goran Visnjic) while he is in the process of assaulting Gillian. The women then try to hide from the repercussions of their deed, even as a good-hearted law enforcement officer (Aidan Quinn) tries to help them. It's an obvious hook for a female empowerment fable, one that plays female viewers for every whoop and cheer it can wrest out of them, but it doesn't quite mix with other ingredients like…

A dash of The Frighteners. You see, Sally and Gillian don't just kill the abusive lout once. They kill him accidentally, cast a spell to bring him back to life, then kill him again when the zombie lout is even more surly than before. The catch is that his restless soul is still hanging about the sisters' picturesque New England home, appearing occasionally to inhabit Gillian's body or attempt to tear out the good-hearted law enforcement officer's heart. Though the scenes of supernatural nastiness are sporadic, they're nonetheless jarring. As the Owens women attempt a climactic exorcism of sorts - joined by a bunch of townswomen who had until that point loathed the sisters, but decided to help out because, darn it, that's just what women do for each other - you may wonder who took your saucy romantic comedy and dipped it in The Witches of Eastwick. That's assuming you still care by that point, given…

A smidgen of Hope Floats. Sandra Bullock now appears to be in her pensive, sorrowful single mother phase, and it doesn't suit her. In the middle of all the magical hijinks surrounding her, Bullock plays her mourning far too straight, as though the film were a deeply observational relationship drama. She should have taken a hint from her co-stars, all of whom appear to be having a heck of a lot more fun. Nicole Kidman is flashy, fiery and sexy as the naughty sister, playing town tramp with plenty of gusto; Channing and Wiest are also enjoyable as the aunts with just a bit of the devil in them. Bullock, meanwhile, pulls out her horn-rims from Love Potion No. 9 and frumps about where she should be providing the stable, sympathetic figure the story needs. And it could have been a strange delight thanks to…

The eye of Griffin Dunne. Actor-turned-director Dunne has a unique, dark comic sensibility behind the camera, evidenced by his ability to turn a tale of two obsessive stalkers (Addicted to Love) into an entertaining romantic comedy. Here he offers a few of his cock-eyed touches, including a midnight drunken party between the four main characters and Gillian's surreal time-lapsed drive to return home, but there's no focus to the story. It's a comedy that gets too serious, a crowd-pleaser that turns too bizarre, a romantic love story that suddenly turns into a sisterly love story. It's certainly never a bore, especially with Kidman throwing off sparks. It also never comes together as anything more than the sum of its disparate parts. I'm not sure what the

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