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Elliot Richardson, a socially awkward IT worker, is given seven wishes to get the girl of his dreams when he meets up with a very seductive Satan. The catch: his soul. Some of his wishes include being a 7 foot basketball star, a wealthy, powerful man, and a sensitive caring guy. But, as could be expected, the Devil must put her own little twist on each his fantasies. Written by
Someone in Movie Heaven dropped a feather down on Ramis, the director of such good time romps as Ghostbusters and Stripes. His remake of this 1967 classic rides on the slumped shoulders of Elliot (Brendan Fraser at his best), a pathetically geeky loner who is so socially unskilled that he makes our skin crawl a little. When we first meet him, Elliot is trying to glom onto his co-workers' after-hours social scene by using such tried-and-true means as showing photos of his speakers (from all sides), a truly awful blue-eyed soul brother act, and plain old stalking.
Even though he is the guy you run from when he lurches towards you in the hall - probably knocking over the water cooler at the same time - Elliot really does want to be different. One reason for this is his fervent secret crush on Alison (Frances O'Connor), a beautiful systems analyst who doesn't see him at all. Elliot is so smitten by her that he doesn't even realize until too late that she has given him a polite brush off at the local pub, where he is busy trying to impress his buddies.
Now comes a simple but nifty transitional shot: a cue ball skips off a pool table and bounces down a flight of stairs and the camera follows as it makes a steady, inevitable trip across the crowded floor, pairs of feet yielding right of way as it goes on to finally hit Elliot's feet where he sits on a stool in silent yearning. He picks up the ball and looks across the room, up the flight of stairs to where destiny, in the form of Elizabeth Hurley in a slinky red dress, is beckoning him.
Ms. Hurley is actually the Devil, although Elliot doesn't know it yet, and she will shortly be putting him through a series of transformative experiences. In the meantime, though, he isn't buying her story, even though she presents him with a card that reads, "The Devil". Contrasted with the heavy-handedness of recent 'Sign O'the Beast R' Us' flicks such as Devil's Advocate, this sequence is done with sly understatement and depends simply on giving Hurley a chance to play the vamp she was born to be.
We begin to like Elliot here because, even though he is presented with a slew of vanity-pleasing enticements, it isn't until she serves up a batch of his grandmother's cookies that he believes the Devil is really who she claims to be. And when he is presented with the standard seven-wishes-for-your-soul contract, it isn't until he sees a giant video screen of Alison calling to him that he makes the deal.
Although the real treats - the deliriously goofy incarnations of teeth, hair and clothing that Elliot chooses for his ideal self in his endless quest for happiness, success, and Alison's hand - are yet to come, I am just pointing out how masterfully Ramis has set the table. By the time he is plunged into his voyage of self-improvement, we already know a great deal about Elliot and have begun to move into his corner.
We've also begun to feel a certain sympathy for the Devil, thanks mainly to the fine work of Ms. Hurley, with her elegant voice and her clear zest for the role. Although she is certainly not the scariest Lucifer yet to appear on screen, she is one of the most persistently sales-oriented and could hang with the toughest of David Mamet's phone scammers. By turns sultry, pitiful, and practical ("Have you ever even seen your soul? Do you even know what it does? It's really just like your appendix - you'll never miss it."), she is always the ultimate Closer. Yet it's also never really in doubt that those with a glimmer of goodness can slip the bonds of her contract with no hard feelings on her part.
Fraser's Elliot, who is almost always the dupe, is hilariously baffled by the persona the Devil has given him. Plagued in each adventure by the same guys who torment him at the office, he can never figure out what has gone wrong with his wish until it is too late. It's delightful to see this fine actor strutting the comic range he is capable of playing in all of his character's various selves, as well as the simplicity with which he returns to being the same old Elliot, wiser, at the end.
Fine supporting work by Orlando Wilson, Paul Adelstein, and Toby Huss as Elliot's co-workers and karmic cast members. Great script by Ramis, Larry Gelbart of M.A.S.H. and Oh, God, and Peter Tolan (Analyze This, The Larry Sanders Show).
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