In yet another remake to hit the screens this year, Elizabeth Hurley stars as the devil. But in this American version of Stanley Donen’s 1967 British film of the same name by director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), the devil doesn’t quite know if she should be acting sweet and seductive or sexy and sly in order to get what she wants.
What she’s lusting after, of course, is a mere earthling’s soul: the soul of social misfit Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser), a romantically inept geek with a crush on co-worker Alison (Frances O’Connor). And she’s willing to wear a slinky red dress, hand out her business card, and buy Elliot a hamburger and coke to prove it.
Elliot surrenders with comparative ease, signing a phonebook size contract in return for the seven wishes the devil promises to grant him. Of course, we can all see where this is going: the wishes all go horribly wrong.
Elliot firstly wishes to be very rich and married to Alison; lo and behold, he’s a Columbian drug lord with an Alison who’s in love with her English teacher. One of the funniest scenes – there are only a few moments of true hilarity in this hit-and-miss comedy – is of Elliot’s utter amazement when he discovers he can speak Spanish fluently.
When things go wrong, Elliot uses the devil’s pager to return to his old identity. And he does need to use it, as in turn he becomes a basketball star with much more than a perspiration problem, a sensitive guy who cries at the sight of a sunset, an articulate author who also happens to be gay, and a president who’s about to be assassinated.
The cuts to the different roles don’t make for much of a plot, and audiences will find themselves growing curious about what’s going to happen to Elliot in the next sketch, rather than derive any pleasure from a coherently structured film.
Hurley, following up on her Austin Powers’ efforts, might not be bad to look at, but has awful trouble swaggering around. She kind of bounces as if she’s uncomfortable when she’s not on a catwalk or standing still for the Estee Lauder photographers – or running past a union picket, perhaps. She also talks rather curiously: it’s as if she’s had one too many elocution lessons.
Fraser deals with the lukewarm script with honorable gusto. His energy results in a solid performance for his multiple and disparate roles – and he’s not bad to look at either.
As the love interest, Australian actress Frances O’Connor isn’t given much of a chance to show her stuff – but when she plays the journalist interviewing Elliot the basketball player, her true talent shines through.
There’s an admirable moral to the movie, but it couldn’t have been less subtly pointed out than if it were actually written up onscreen: you can choose whether you’re going follow a good or an evil path while you’re here on earth – no need to wait until after death. There’s a few laughs, but ultimately this is harmless candy for the eyes. How desperate are you for a sugar fix?