Courtesy Photo
105 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, October 2, 1998
Directed by Griffin Dunne

Starring Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest & Adian Quinn

This film is on the Worst of 1998 list.


Might be even more unbearable without the dark and surrounding sensetion of the theater to keep your attention on the screen. But at least in letterbox the sorcery-enhancing photography wouldn't be diminished.

Warner Bros under curse when they green- lighted charmeless 'Magic'

I put a hex on myself by walking out on "Holy Man" last week and making a big deal about it in my review. As a result I thought I would look a little petty if I walked out on "Practical Magic" as well -- two walk outs in two weeks -- but boy, how I wanted to.

I was rolling my eyes in the first 60 seconds when the movie opened with a colonial history lesson about a family of witches while one of them is shown about to be hanged (the usual burning or drowning would be too gruesome for a light comedy).

I knew at that moment, "Practical Magic," in which Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play sibling sorceresses unlucky in love, would be the kind of inconsistent, contradictory story that only employs the covenants of its genre when the script called for it, and not when it would be logical to do so.

Example: Reluctant sorceress Bullock absentmindedly stirs her coffee by telekinesis in two separate scenes, but when her sister's serial killer boyfriend is holding a gun to her head, neither of them has the presence of mind to use their powers against him. It would make sense, and therefore resolve the story too quickly.

Meanwhile, everyone in the audience has thought of half a dozen witchy ways (and two or three more conventional ones, like running away in the scene where he takes a leak) by which to defeat the thug.

"Practical Magic" assumes the audience to be too dim to catch these yawning chasms in the plot. We're not supposed to wonder why Bullock doesn't keep her husband home on the morning she knows he's going to die because of a family curse. Later, after the sisters accidentally kill Kidman's violent beau, we're not supposed to ask why they conjure up a spell to get rid of the cops, instead of just using their magic to get rid of the body.

What's more, we're supposed to ignore the fact that they keep the dead guy's car in their driveway, arousing suspicion.

This isn't check-your-brain-at-the-door stuff. I'm perfectly capable of letting go and enjoying a movie that admits to its idiocy and runs with it. But director Griffin Dunne ("Addicted to Love"), once a fun actor with an ironic sense of humor (see "After Dark" some time), actually thinks we're stupid.

I don't know about you, but that gets my hackles up. Don't take my $7.50 then turn around and insult me, dammit.

This movie is a mess. The plot is tedious and transparent at best and involves homebody sister Bullock fearing of the family's dead husband curse and party girl, sex-pot sister Kidman denying it by way of promiscuity.

The acting consists almost entirely of Bullock on auto-pilot, wearing sweet-smiles and tank-tops, and Kidman giving come-hither stares. Even the two really talented actresses in the movie, Stockard Channing and Diane Weist playing the stars' stereotypical soothsaying aunts in mock turn of the century costumes, have nothing to contribute but scarecrow versions of their standard screen personas.

As the story plods along (the pacing is as bad as anything else) it gets more nonsensical. The climax, a matter of casting out the dead boyfriend's ghost, is dependent on a gaggle of catty small town housewives, who have shunned the witches all their lives, suddenly and inexplicably having a change of heart and, without question or hesitation, participating in a pagan ritual.

And the relentless soundtrack is just one Lilith Fair tune ceaselessly beat-mixed into another with a couple Stevie Nicks numbers thrown in for atmosphere.

With half a dozen good examples out there of how to do a modern witchcraft movie right ("The Witches of Eastwick," "The Craft"), a sorry spectacle like "Practical Magic" would have been a embarrassed, straight-to-video release without Bullock and Kidman attached.

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