Practical Magic

* * 1/2*

Based on Alice Hoffman's novel, Practical Magic is a partially enchanting film about the lives and loves of a family of witches. The film is never as magical as it needs to be, and it is harmed by some overly simplistic solutions.

The Owens family is a family of witches...stubborn witches apparently. For 300 years, their small Massachusetts town has persecuted and shunned the Owens girls. But, do they move away and start anew? Nope. They don't even put a curse on the locals. Instead, they live in the same small town, and even suffer under a curse of their own.

You see, ever since one Owens girl was unlucky in love many many moons ago, any man who ever loves an Owens is doomed to die young. This curse doesn't bother the flighty Gillian Owens (Nicole Kidman), who thinks there are plenty of men around, so why should she get attached to just one? However, for Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock), the curse presents a problem... one she attempts to solve (but apparently unsuccessfully) with magic.

Flash forward several years...a desperate plea from Gillian, whose flighty ways have landed her in Florida, sends Sally on a rescue attempt. Apparently Gillian's latest boyfriend, Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), isn't a really nice guy. But when the two witches start using magic to get out of their predicament, they're unprepared for the dark forces they are about to unleash.

For the most part, Practical Magic displays the light side of witchcraft. There's one moderately gruesome spirit, but other than that, the magic here is as tame as Bewitched.

Sandra Bullock is a bit bland as Sally. She's likable, but her character cries out for a magical zest which never materializes. Kidman is a little better as the free spirited Gillian. At least she captivates your attention a little bit. But both of the leads are a little flat...too one note. They both seem more like short descriptions rather than full-fledged characters.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag of tricks. Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest seem to hit the right notes as Sally and Gillian's wise, doting aunts. But Aidan Quinn doesn't quite fit as a detective hot on Jimmy's trail. The townsfolk are amusing at times, but rarely believable in their convictions.

Practical Magic is a nice enough movie, but, on the whole, it's disappointing. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly, and the whole film is missing a certain charm. At best, it makes for a fluffy little diversion.

[PG-13 - some violence, intense thematic elements and sensuality] (WB)


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