RoughMagic220.jpg (16771 bytes)ROUGH MAGIC:
Director: Clare Peploe
Writers: James Hadley Chase (novel), Robert Mundi
Also stars: Bridget Fonda

Based on the novel "Miss Shumway Waves a Hand by James Hadley Chase
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by Charles Taylor, for
Set in the 1950s, "Rough Magic" stars the radiant Bridget Fonda as Myra Shumway, a magician's assistant who's breaking up the act to marry a rich, arrogant dullard (D.W. Moffett) who's been handpicked for a Senate seat. Myra's boss (Kenneth Mars) insists she's throwing away her true magical powers, but his scheme to thwart the marriage results in a terrible accident that sends Myra fleeing to Mexico with incriminating evidence on her fiancÚ. He arranges for Alex Ross (Russell Crowe), a newspaper stringer stationed south of the border, to keep tabs on Myra. They wind up traveling together, and soon the two of them hook up with Doc Ansell (Jim Broadbent, who has the distinctive, endearing eccentricity of '30s character actors like Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton). Doc -- whose traveling companion is his adorable little Jack Russell terrier, a born scene stealer -- is a genial con man who nonetheless knows the real thing when he sees it. Getting a gander at Myra's shaman's belt (a gift from her boss), he figures she's the gal to discover the ingredients of an ancient Mexican miracle potion he's been hoping to get his hands on.
magic03.jpg (38660 bytes)This road trip is like a honeymoon that gets under way before the courtship has barely begun. What happens could be read as a fable about a woman who comes to learn her own inner strength -- except that the movie isn't sappy or wide-eyed or preachy. The hocus-pocus of the story is grounded in the wised-up attitude of noir. When Alex jumps into Myra's convertible, he gives her a long once-over and announces, "If I couldn't smell tamales cookin', I'd swear I'd died and gone to heaven." And she replies, "Lie under the back wheels and I'll do what I can to get you there." Dozens of movies in the last few years have self-consciously tried to revive noir by focusing on elaborate period production design or exaggerated brutality. Peploe's laid-back approach -- epitomized by that exchange between Fonda and Crowe -- comes closer to the no-big-deal spirit of noir than any of them.
Russell Crowe gets to be sexy and breezy here in a way that the reductive machismo of his star-making role in the self-serious "L.A. Confidential" didn't allow for. (It takes a certain type of movie-star glamour to still look good with three days' worth of whiskers.) Fonda, with her shoulder-length pageboy and cinched-to-the-waist dresses (designed by Richard Hornung), has her best chance ever to parlay her talent for smoldering insinuation. Visually, she calls up the 19-year-old Lauren Bacall of "To Have and Have Not," but she's a better actress, and if such a thing is possible, swings her hips even more enticingly. (Her gait suggests a naturalistic version of what Fred Astaire meant in "The Bandwagon" when, seeing Cyd Charisse saunter toward him, he says, "She came at me in sections.") The burden of the movie's most outlandish plot twists are square on her shoulders, and she pulls each one off with an assured, stylish bravado that's flabbergasting.
magic14.jpg (25693 bytes)Peploe is squarely behind Doc Ansell's thesis that real magic isn't the stuff of tricks but a genuine potent force. "Rough Magic" and "High Season" suggest she's earned the right to that belief. It's not sleight of hand that can make lightning strike twice like this. It's the real McCoy.
SALON | July 7, 1998


2crowe.gif (1653 bytes)This film is the story of a magician's assistant, Myra (Bridget Fonda), who travels to Mexico searching for a magical medicine woman after circumstances force her to flee her fiance.

Myra's fiance (D.W. Moffit) hires Alex Ross (Russell Crowe) to find Myra.  When Alex does find Myra, the "adventure" begins.

This is a somewhat convoluted story that requires the viewer to suspend belief numerous times throughtout. But let's face it, it's a movie about magic.

magic17.jpg (32420 bytes)Set in the 1950's, one of the best things about this movie is the wardrobe, especially Russell's. He is particularly fetching in a fedora, suit and tie. He looks very comfortable in these clothes, just like he stepped out of a 1950's cigarette

There are not very many stand out scenes here. However, look for the scene where Alex first makes contact with Myra. He gives her a head-to-tow once-over that makes you just melt. I've seen many RC movies but have never seen him look at a woman quite that way. It's a rewind moment.

Russell does the best he can with an unbelievable plot and gives a pretty decent performance. Seeing him in the vintage clothes alone is worth the rental price.

Rated: Two Crowes

3crowe.gif (2082 bytes)
As "runaway" magician's assistant Myra Shumway, Bridget Fonda turns in a strong, usually quite likable performance. Her character is given more history and details than that of Alex Ross, Russell Crowe's role. That is not to say that Russell doesn't perform well. He does, it's just that Bridget was given more substance by the writer(s).

This is a nice, old-fashioned, throw-back to the late-40s, early-50s type of movie. Bridget and Russell pair up well on screen, and it might be fun to see them together again in a different kind of film.

The story is (obviously) focused on magic and myth, but if they are your cup of tea, then this is a fun film to watch. I think their performances are worth 4 crow(e)s, but as a whole, I feel that the movie rates 3.

Rated: three crowes


Thanks to the Crowe Slide Shows site for the screen captures!

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