Director: Clare Peploe
Hadley Chase (novel), Robert
Also stars: Bridget Fonda
Based on the novel "Miss Shumway Waves
a Hand by James Hadley Chase
Click here for fan reviews
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.
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.
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
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"
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.
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
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!