If someone told you that Bedazzled (2000) is on Netflix, would the knowledge provoke aversion, apathy or, perhaps, shameful glee? Regardless of your initial reaction, this film deserves a second chance. Let’s be clear: this piece will not attempt to argue that Harold Ramis’ devilish, 49% fresh comedy is an underappreciated masterpiece (see: Second Chance: The Assassination of Jesse James). Even so, it is this author’s hope that by the conclusion you might just consider a rematch and, heaven forbid, enjoy it.
The Faustian premise has vast potential and appeal. Dorky protagonist Elliot Richards is granted seven wishes by the Devil to win the girl of his dreams. The downside: he must sell his soul. Comedy duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore first took advantage of the ample comic potential here, working with Stanley Donen to mould the original, dryly humorous and intelligent, 1967 comedy classic. Understandably, some of the vehement dislike of the 2000 remake derives from comparisons to the original. Imagine, however, that we abandoned the righteous exclamations of “why, God, why” and put away our pitchforks? This uproariously imperfect, yet perfectly valid, reimagining has something to offer.
“I, the Devil, a not-for-profit corporation, with offices in Purgatory, Hell, and Los Angeles, will give you seven wishes to use as you see fit”.
The “so bad it’s good” part will be sketched in below, but first let’s highlight traits that are just plain good. Bedazzled provides an accessible route into a powerful archetypal legend in a way that, while goofy and not complex, is not indecently stupid. To this end, Bedazzled offers solid well-intentioned, feel-good cinema, capably directed and co-written by notable comedy veteran Harold Ramis. Ramis knew how to make films funny, hit the right tone, and ceaselessly seized the joke whether plainly funny, “punny” or visual.
The outcomes – best exemplified at the brisk beginning – are wickedly funny and occasionally witty, showcasing a tight comedic timing that elicits consistent laughs (The Devil: ‘How would you like to make one simple decision that’ll change your life forever?’ Elliot: ‘OK, I’m glad scientology works for you but… ‘). Bedazzled has an admirable pace, begun with just enough characterisation and exposition to get the ball rolling, and followed by lively and focussed vignette storytelling that succeeds quite consistently.
The Devil: “You know, you’d think that meeting the Devil would be interesting enough but no. All people want to know about is Him [God]. Like He’s so bloody fascinating!
Elliot: So He’s a man?
The Devil: Yeah, most men think they’re God, this one just happens to be right.”
Bedazzled contains more than enough tongue-in-cheek “bad” to make it unapologetically good, guilty-pleasure fun. Bonkers and unreal outrageousness works in a film that hinges upon being larger than life. By wallowing in the shallow end, Bedazzled somehow manages to traverse that invisible line to become truly entertaining. This indelicate escapade – from its crazy jokes to insane outfits – owns the necessary confidence, cheesiness and pizzazz.
There is not enough space here to successfully ponder all the relevant issues, but let’s tentatively contemplate what qualities can make a good film. Mightn’t it be better to provoke a reaction even if the response is a rueful snigger, a roll of the eyes, or even visceral dislike? Bedazzled certainly incites a reaction. Going further, perhaps it is reasonable to occasionally adopt a mellower outlook and indulge in pure silliness. In this respect Bedazzled more than meets its justifiable aims while not taking itself at all seriously; and there is nothing wrong with that.
A significant reason to undertake a second viewing, symbiotic with the guilty-pleasure factor, is the power of nostalgia. Bedazzled’s current charm derives to some extent from wistfulness either for the time of first viewing or for the brand of camp cinema (an ethos taken up more recently by Kingsman: The Secret Service) that is increasingly disregarded – no judgement here – in favour of grittiness.
Whatever the reason, and whether or not there are any concrete psychological benefits to be gained from nostalgia (some light reading here, here and here) it shouldn’t hurt to take another peek. There is something potent about the rose-tinting influence that makes us forgive (almost) all sins. Certainly the warmth that permeates Bedazzled is almost enough to make you tolerate, with rueful fondness, the sporadic awkwardness, occasionally hazardous stereotypes and more unnecessary jokes.
Let’s turn to more palpable positives. Although there are no awards-worthy performances to be seen, there is something to be said for a cast and highly visible leads that are collectively up for anything. The “Princess of Darkness” takes splendid form in Elizabeth Hurley who brings something unique and different to the remake. She is wonderfully obnoxious with a pantomime falseness that is perfect for the character, whether or not it was fully intended… or just a natural fit (“My mother said…‘Darling, you won’t have to act at all’”).
The affable Brendan Fraser has been excessively underrated, thanks to some poor role choices and lack of fresh limelight. However there is so much to admire about the sheer energy, commitment and versatility he displays. In Bedazzled he gives an expressive and fearless performance with a kooky quality that is over-the-top without being overbearing. In Fraser’s hands Elliot’s character and emotional impression are established quickly and vividly. He is the likeable core Bedazzled needs.
If nothing else, Bedazzled is not one of those films that precipitate intense longing for the last few of hours of your life back. There is good-naturedness and competence here that renders it perfectly gratifying for those who value – or can tolerate – a certain level of ridiculousness in a film.
Like its protagonist, Bedazzled does not always make the right choices. Nonetheless, re-evaluated through a more relaxed prism, it becomes possible to forgive its irrefutable flaws. Relax, sell your soul and enjoy a camp and uncomplicated comedy.