"Practical Magic" sure could have used some.
A hopeless mess that careens from here to there with all the finesse of a fish on dry land, "Practical Magic" wastes a good idea and two wonderful actresses (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) on a film that has no idea where it's going. It's "The Exorcist" combined with "Mary Poppins," with a little "Thelma & Louise" thrown in just for the heck of it.
Bullock and Kidman are Sally and Gillian Owens, sisters and witches growing up under an unfortunate curse: Thanks to mob hysteria back in Old Salem, all Owens women are fated to watch the men they love die.
Over the years, the Owens gals have come up with several ways of dealing with their fate. In the case of Sally and Gillian's mom, she just ignored it and did the best she could, marrying and raising children. Aunts Jet and Frances (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing) opt for spinsterhood. Gillian turns herself into a party girl, having plenty of fun but being careful not to fall in love.
And Sally well, she falls somewhere in the middle. She tries to maintain a hard heart, setting such high standards for her men that she's sure no one will ever meet them. But danged if Prince Charming doesn't insist on coming along anyway.
Sounds like the perfect setup for a nice, teary melodrama, or maybe a quirky little tale of two sisters, or even a darkly humorous men-vs.-women thing like "The Witches of Eastwick."
But "Practical Magic" struggles to be all three. The result is a film that it's impossible to get a grip on.
The script by Robin Swicord, Akiva Goldsman and Adam Brooks sputters and explodes and veers off in strange directions and gives everyone powers and proclivities no one ever suspected they had. Worst of all, it forces Wiest and Channing off-screen for better than half the movie.
The film's conflict arises when one of Gillian's boyfriends turns surly and the girls turn into accidental murderers. Of course, you'd think that, as witches, they could come up with a less forceful way of dealing with bad dates, but his death does serve a purpose -- it introduces dewey-eyed Aidan Quinn, as a police detective who's the perfect man Sally never thought she'd see ** again.
Bullock and Kidman are both wonderful actresses, and watching them for two hours could never be called a chore. But even they seem to have trouble pinning the movie down.
Starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman
Directed by Griffin Dunne
Released by Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual situations)
Running time: 110 minutes
Sun score: * 1/2
Pub Date: 10/16/98