Hollywood's longtime fondness for witchcraft comedies ranges from the charm of Bell, Book and Candle to the ham of Hocus Pocus; from the sauciness of I Married a Witch to the wretched excess of The Witches of Eastwick. Somewhere in between is Practical Magic, a promising but muddled comedy about sibling witches with, perhaps inevitably, some unthreatening feminism thrown into the mix.
Actor-turned-director Griffin Dunne is the filmmaker behind this hyperactive comedy, which posits the high concept that a pair of sisters played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock are so determined to find the right man that they must resort to...well, practical magic. But there's a catch. Red-haired Gillian Owens and brunette Sally Owens are not your average spell-casting women. Sure, they can do magic but an ancient family curse decrees that the men they fall in love with are doomed to an untimely death.
Over the years, we're told, the sight of a scurrying black beetle has signaled the imminent demise of an Owens husband or boyfriend. Indeed, Practical Magic is only a few minutes old before Sally discovers just such an omen, only to have her spouse, an easygoing fish merchant, mowed down by a truck in the street outside their home-this after he managed to dodge several dozen cyclists rounding a bend at top speed, suggesting perhaps that dark forces have an admirable sense of irony.
Based on a novel by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic kicks into high gear when Gillian gets involved with a vile boyfriend named Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), who beats her up when he isn't tearing her down. To the rescue comes Sally but, in the ensuing fray, Jimmy winds up dead, although in the tradition of a boyfriend from hell, he refuses to stay dead. In fact, Jimmy the corpse pops up so frequently that he invites comparisons with Friday the 13th's Jason.
For all its brief forays into horror-movie terrain, Practical Magic's heart is firmly in the 'sisterhood is good' romantic comedy bailiwick, which manages to invest a couple of Owens aunts-played delightfully by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest-with positive witchy ways that can offset just about anything. Less fortuitous is a third-act romance which pairs Sally with a police officer (Aidan Quinn), who seems to have wandered in from another movie, but stays around for a predictably happy ending.