I pay a lot of attention to the “Recommended for You” section of Netflix. Thanks to the recommendations, I’ve seen a LOT of things (Black Sheep) that I wouldn’t have normally put in my queue (I may have even mentioned this before). So when I got a recommendation for Rough Magic, and it came with a three out of five star rating, it caught my interest. Normally, I am a sucker for anything magic-y, or paranormal-y, or supernatural-y. I joke all the time with my boyfriend that I’m kind of a cinematic one-trick pony, and if you can find me a movie that involves manipulating the environment through interaction with extraordinary forces, then I am up with the get down. So hey, a movie with Bridget Fonda, who I’ve always liked, and young, workingman’s hero Russell Crowe, that involves magic? Plus, it’s set in a sort of 1940s, film-noir setting, where men wear atrocious tropical-print ties and ladies smoke their brains out and wear zazzy hats? Yeah! Down with it!
Only, not so much. If I could give this movie the finger and make it matter to someone, I would.
In Rough Magic, Bridget Fonda plays Myra Shumway, an exceptionally talented magician’s assistant who seemingly has more magical ability than simple prestidigitation would account for. She gets engaged to the cartoonishly creepy rich guy Cliff Wyatt (D. W. Moffett, who’s sort of an “Oh, it’s that guy!” actor) who, on the night of her final show, shoots her magician mentor in a weird accident that involves Wyatt’s being stockaded into a guillotine while Myra does some picture taking. Myra, thinking she has a picture of Wyatt shooting the only person she really cares about in the world (her words, not mine), throws Wyatt’s ring in the gutter and drives to Mexico. Wyatt, thinking Myra has a picture of him murdering someone, hires Alex Ross (Russell Crowe), a mercenary/gumshoe, to find her.
All well enough so far, yes? But, this is where “well enough” begins and ends. The dialogue in the first half-hour or so is supposed to be zingy and tough like the film noir classics, but they ain’t Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews and this isn’t Laura.
In Fonda’s and Crowe’s mouths, with inferior writing and worse direction, “zingy and tough” becomes “snarky and doltish.” Mercifully, they stop trying to write dialogue like that, but therein lies the only example of mercy provided by the people of Rough Magic. The Mexicans are disgusting, even hideously abusive; at their best they want to smell la gringa’s golden hair and at their worst, they threaten rape over a disputed tab for gasoline and cervezas (I’m not citing who played them and really, they should thank me for the lack of promotion, but I digress). It’s one of the most offensive instances of cinematic racism I’ve
seen in a long time…practically since King Kong…the 1933 version. And the plotline is unfollowable, or at least not followable in the traditional sense; Bridget Fonda horks up a magical egg that contains a tarantula (actually, I think she lays it, which just makes things even weirder when you think about it for 10 seconds–why is she pushing spiders out of her vagina?) while Russell Crowe mumbles things as though he’s embarrassed by the script and tries to face the camera at a three-quarter upturn, as though looking fetching will compensate for everything else that’s wrong with this picture. What what what the frigging huh? Jim Broadbent’s wandering around this film chasing after some Mexican shaman lady, but I think he took a wrong turn off the set of Richard III and was playing along until he could find his way back out. Maybe he was hoping she could conjure up some directions for him.
Side note: Watch Richard III, if you haven’t already.
I watch a lot of crappy movies. And, I find a lot of redeeming features in a lot of crappy movies. But in this one? Ummmm…Bridget Fonda sure looks pretty! And it’s like this was a training ground for Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential, so at least he got it right eventually. If you want modern noir + magic, dig up a bootleg copy of 1991’s Cast a Deadly Spell. You get Fred Ward, and Clancy Brown, and a smoking-hot Julianne Moore, and CTHULU! What could be better? (Damn you, HBO! Release this on DVD already!)
To sum up: this was a fundamentally disappointing movie-watching experience. The trailer’s been wonderfully cut, though, so watch that and just pretend there’s a better movie to go with it.
Watch this movie if:
- Your love of modern noir knows no bounds.
- You’re an asshole looking to justify your racist tendencies.
- You can’t get your hands on a bootleg of Cast a Deadly Spell.
- You are a shut-in and have watched literally every other movie ever made.
Don’t watch this movie if:
- You understand that your time here on Earth is finite.
- You appreciate Jim Broadbent’s acting abilities.
- You expect a plot to make sense.
- You want to think fondly of Bridget Fonda’s acting career.
- You have a bootleg copy of Cast a Deadly Spell. (*ahem*…Call me.)
I’ll just leave you with this…