Cursed with cuteness

Movie: Practical Magic

Practical Magic
Length: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: 1998-10-16
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Weist, Stockard Channing, Aiden Quinn
Director: Griffin Dunne
Screenwriter: Robin Swicord, Akiva Goldsman, Adam Brooks
Music Score: Alan Silvestri
WorkNameSort: Practical Magic
Our Rating: 2.50

Two sexy witch sisters, their enchanting aunts and a pair of adorable pint-sized sorceresses in training add up to "Practical Magic," a misguided two-for-one star vehicle that's cursed with its own cuteness.

Griffin Dunne, the former actor whose first feature was the atrocious "Addicted to Love," additionally has doomed this attractively photographed bit of fall fluff to an identity that's as conflicted as its characters. The film, adapted from the Alice Hoffman novel of the same name, is a romantic comedy that occasionally ventures into the horrific, a chick flick that briefly turns into a thriller, wannabe family fare that abruptly dips into the macabre.

Sandra Bullock, a one-time America's sweetheart so winning in "While You Were Sleeping," and Nicole Kidman ("To Die For"), fresh from a year on Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" set, are likable enough as Sally and Gillian Owens, siblings raised in the ways of white magic by kooky aunts Jet (Dianne Wiest) and Frances (Stockard Channing).

Sally, like her small-screen predecessors Samantha and Sabrina, is a witch desperately trying to live a normal life. She runs a small business in her coastal New England home town and spends as much quality time as possible with her daughters Evan and Alexandra in the sprawling Victorian house they share with the doting, interchangeable aunts.

Gillian, a free-spirited counterpart to her straight-laced sister, takes full advantage of her powers, seducing men at will and breaking hearts along the way. Her bedroom is a lovers' lair right out of a Stevie Nicks song, replete with banks of flickering candles, a glowing fireplace and the occasional gust of wind to lift her reddish tresses.

True love, though, seems to elude the sisters, burdened with a family curse that causes any man who falls for either one to suffer an untimely demise. Sally, troubled by the sudden death of a true-blue boyfriend, snuggles in bed with her sister, and declares, "I just want someone to love me."

Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), Gillian's overly attentive beau, sparks the film's central crisis. What to do when the violent, self-styled cowboy from Bulgaria is accidentally poisoned by belladonna? (Yes, it's Nicks' spirit that hovers over this movie). He's brought back to life with the help of a spell that involves incantations and whipped cream, only to promptly be sent back to the grave.

All is well, as Gillian, reunited with her family after a long period on the road, settles into small-town life, barging into a P.T.A. meeting and joining Sally and the aunts in a long round of midnight margaritas and tequila shots. MTV meets female empowerment, as the enchantresses bond, giggle and dance to the sound of "Put the Lime in the Coconut."

Party time ends, though, with the return of Jimmy, as a spirit invading the body of Gillian. Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn), an Arizona cop investigating Jimmy's disappearance, uses his badge to ward off the reborn bad guy. But it takes an exorcism -- participated in, oddly enough, by town women who earlier expressed their distaste for their neighbors' practice of witchcraft -- to finally rid the earth of that particular evil.

One sister finds love, another finds acceptance, and the whole community turns out for their Halloween party. The murder investigation magically shuts down, and all six of the witches seem to come out of their figurative broom closet at the same time, donning pointy black hats and safely jumping off the roof of their home.

"Practical Magic" sometimes wants to be as hip and brooding as "The Witches of Eastwick," and elsewhere strives to be at least as funny and frothy as "Hocus Pocus." Whatever this combination might be called, it never quite works.


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