Practical Magic (1998)
Directed by Griffin Dunne
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, Aidan Quinn, Goran Visjnic, Chloe Webb, Lucinda Jenney.
1998 105 minutes
Rated: (for mild violence, profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 17, 1998.
"Practical Magic," is a film that is so misguided in so many ways that it makes you wonder how such talented and high-profile actors would even get involved in an embarrassing clap-trap like this one.
The film stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters whose family comes from a long line of witches, spanning back 200 years. At the start, their parents die when they are still children, and they go to live with their two zany aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest). Switch to the present day, Gillian, who is the stronger, more rebellious sibling, leaves home, and meets up with a dark, abusive guy (Goran Visjnic), while Sally stays in their hometown, meets and falls in love with a sweet, caring man, has two children, and then is devastated when her husband is hit by a truck and killed (come to think of it, she's not too devastated since she gets over it in about two minutes). When Gillian calls Sally to come get her after having another abusive spat with Visjnic, they accidentally murder him, and in desperation, bury the body in the backyard of their aunts' house. Add to this wildly convoluted story subplots involving the dead rising and an exorcism, not to mention a spattering of "light-hearted whimsy," and you have a pretty good idea how messy "Practical Magic" is.
After seeing the film, I reflected that there was not even one scene, or element, that I liked or enjoyed. It is a comedy, to be sure, but all of the humor falls astoundingly flat, and the occasional dramatic moments are the least bit touching. It is not charming or entertaining in any way. And then to top it off, we've got this dark, but bird-brained story of an evil spirit taking over Gillian's body. Whatever.
The characters are handled terribly, and actually, most of the actors do not have the fortune of even getting to be what you could call a character. There is no reason why Channing and Wiest should have decided to be in this film, and in every scene involving them, they are always standing side-by-side. No attempt is made to flesh them out into actual people. The same goes for Aidan Quinn, as a handsome police investigator, who has the misfortune of being the romantic lead opposite Bullock, even though he comes into it at around the 70-minute mark, and once again, there is no attempt to develop their relationship, or his character, in any way. In fact, every line of dialogue in the film is in service of moving the plot along, rather than getting to know the people saying the lines. I should have know I was headed for trouble during the opening credits, when I found out the screenplay was written by the deeply hated Akiva Goldsman, who managed to destroy the "Batman" series with "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin."
"Practical Magic" is directed by Griffin Dunne, primarily an actor, who last year made the contrived, clumsy romance, "Addicted to Love," with Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick. I disliked that movie quite a bit, but since "Practical Magic" is even worse, that can only give you a taste of what a talentless filmmaker he is. I'd tell him to quit while he's ahead, but in these last two years, he's ultimately already buried himself.
©1998 by Dustin Putman