Basically, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play the latest generation in a family of witches, who have been cursed by an ancestor whose love was betrayed. Now, if either one of them falls truly in love, the object of their affection will meet a horrible fate.
That’s the premise anyway, and it sounds interesting enough, but the actually story has precious little to do with it. Instead, most of the movie is devoted to Kidman’s tarty Gillian, who gets involved with a really dangerous dude (Goran Visnjic), who causes all kinds of trouble – even after he is dead. There is an early section of the film dealing with the husband of Sally (Bullock), who gets run over by a truck. Why did she get married in spite of the curse? Because her aunts (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing) put a spell on her. Why did the aunts put a spell on her, knowing the terrible consequences? Because they did not expect her to fall truly in love. Huh, what? They hoped she would marry someone she did not love?
The whole films operates on this haphazard level. Whatever works for a big scene is used, whether or not it fits into the film as a whole. The result is a handful of great entertainment bits that add up to one big episodic mess, with major characters disappearing for long stretches to make room for other business to intrude.
To wrap things up, director Griffin Dunne (who really should know better, having produced some cool movies) stages a goofy exorcism with lots of computer-generated effects, but the film is too silly to support the scene as anything other than a lark – it’s a light-show, completely lacking in suspense or horror, despite all the sound and fury.
Then, for a happy finale, the witches, dress in cliche garb and fly off their roof to amuse their neighbors on Halloween. It is hard to say which is more ridiculous: the very existence of the scene or the fact that, having decided to include it, Dunne handled it in such a perfunctory manner.
For those of you wondering how the curse is finally lifted so that Bullock and Aidan Quinn can live happily ever after: it simply happens automatically, in order to provide am upbeat ending, courtesy of a voice over by Sally, admitting that she does not know how or why it happened. If nothing else, the screenwriters deserve recognition for the nerve it took to employ what must be the most outrageously lazy writer’s device in the history of cinema.
PRACTICAL MAGIC (1998). Directed by Griffin Dunne. Screenplay by Robin Swicord and Akiva Goldsman and Adam Brooks, from the novel by Alice Hoffman. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, Goran Visnjic, Aidan Quinn, Evan Rachel Wood.