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Bridget Fonda casts a spell in the uneven 'Rough Magic'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A new-age spiritual quest in the guise of an old film noir, the romantic thriller "Rough Magic" stars that enchantress Bridget Fonda as a sorcerer's apprentice who discovers she possesses true supernatural powers.

If you like your magic realism hard-boiled, your spiritualism screwball or Fonda any way you can get her (and she is irresistible here), the awkwardly made fairy tale is appealing.

But it is hard to imagine a stranger brew than Clare Peploe's love potion of a film set in 1950. This is a movie that is equal parts Lewis Carroll and Carlos Castaneda and as uneven as it is potent.

A white rabbit scampers into an elevator and a pair of glam gams in fishnet scamper after it. The legs belong to Myra Shumway (Fonda), a magician's assistant, who is late for a very important date. She gets a rise out of three businessmen in the elevator when she retrieves her rabbit and then pulls a baby bunny out of each man's jacket pocket.

One of the suits is Cliff Wyatt, a U.S. senator from California and presidential aspirant. He needs a wife, and he likes Myra because she is someone who knows about illusion. Myra likes Wyatt's money.

Myra is about to trade her wand for a wedding band when the magician she works for (Kenneth Mars) uses his powers to make Myra have second thoughts about the opportunistic Wyatt. Myra flees to Mexico, where, much to her surprise, the gold-digger finds her heart. It's an organ she never needed before meeting Alex Ross (Russell Crowe), a reporter hired by Wyatt to find her.

If the Mexico/Guatemala sequences of "Rough Magic" seem familiar, then you've probably seen the noir classic "Out of the Past" as many times as Peploe, who works hard to evoke its boozy, doomed-love mood. Which is odd, because Peploe's lovers are not star-crossed but star-kissed, and the elixir of choice isn't tequila but some peyote concoction that enables Myra to get in touch with her inner shaman.

With the exceptions of Fonda and Jim Broadbent, who plays a grizzled witch doctor, Peploe is an awkward director of actors. And she puts her players through an exasperating number of mood and tone shifts that not even a peyote trip can explain.

Is it that the subject matter is particularly close to Fonda's heart or that she has matured as an actress? Whichever, the sleeping beauty of so many Gen X films really has come to life and of age in "Touch" and "Rough Magic."

'Rough Magic'

Starring Bridget Fonda

Directed by Clare Peploe

Released by UGC Images

Rated PG-13 (drugs, sexual candor, violence, profanity)

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 6/20/97

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