Practical Magic

The title is, to say the least, an understatement. Witchcraft has rarely looked more prosaic and less sexy than it does in Griffin Dunne's Practical Magic. Virtually anti-camp and laughably toothless compared to more youthful witch fantasies like The Craft (or, for that matter, the WB's Charmed), the movie does occasionally make a show of invoking some form of Girl Power--specifically, the mild, Lilith-verging-on-Lifetime version. Still, its halfhearted feminism further muted by an unmistakable whiff of New Age, this adaptation of Alice Hoffman's popular novel is basically a cross-generational female-bonding cliché-fest in supernatural drag, with a discordant emphasis on upbeat romantic resolution.

An age-old spell dictates that any man who dares to love an Owens woman will die young, and the task of lifting the ancestral curse falls to yin-yang sisters (blood pacts, broomsticks, and standing in a circle are involved). While Sally (Sandra Bullock), the saintly one, suppresses her witchy powers in the interests of suburban normalcy, Gillian (Nicole Kidman), the slutty one, escapes to some Gomorrah or other, where she hangs out poolside with lots of men. A few years on, reunited and suddenly faced with the dead-body predicament that leads people in movies to behave in a particularly stupid fashion, the sisters turn to their trusty spell book.

Poised and light-footed, Kidman emerges unscathed, as do Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as the flaky aunts. But the most glaring problem here is that the implicitly boring good witch is played by the explicitly boring Sandra Bullock; her inevitable coupling with Aidan Quinn's correspondingly insipid cop ranks as one of the most waterlogged screen romances in memory.

 
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