Rough Magic

Directed by: Clare Peploe
Starring: Bridget Fonda, Russell Crowe,Jim Broadbent
Details: 1 hr. 44 mins. Cert.12 USA
Opens: April 26 (Selected Cinemas)

Once in a while there comes a film sufficiently different and intriguing that it steadfastly resists the confines of genre. With Mexicans transformed into sausages (and wolfed down by Jack Russells), Fonda laying tarantula-hatching eggs and magical potions on the agenda, this is a fairly good example.

In an unfortunate incident with a guillotine and a prop gun, magician's assistant Myra Shumway (Fonda) sees her illusionist mentor shot by her atomic entrepreneur fiance (D.W. Moffet), and flees 50s L.A. for Mexico. Nowhere is safe, however, and Crowe's shambling American gumshoe is dispatched to recover evidence of the crime and the errant bride-to-be. Enter the even shabbier Broadbent as a failed English doctor obsessed with stealing the mystical blue elixir of local Indian scorceress Tojola (Euva Anderson), who convinces Myra to help him. Things turn egg-shaped when Myra quaffs a cup of colourful brew, and gradually discovers strange new powers of the abracadara variety.

Peploe's version of James Hadley Chase's Miss Shumways Waves A Wand is a perculiar, and often uncomfortable, mixture of romantic caper, farce and film noir. What weaknesses there are lie with the curiously meandering storyline frequently losing its focus, and with attempted humour that does't quite come off. But the film is largely saved by sheer quirkiness - Peploe pulls off the magical realism that House Of The Spirits utterly failed to - and winning performances: Broadbent is seedy; Crowe, roguish; Moffet, smirkingly cynical, but all manage to remain likeable. And Fonda makes a feisty and engaging heroine in yet another brave tangent from her mainstream career.


Darren Bignell