Film: "Hocus Pocus"
Stars: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker
Theaters: Annex, Woodland Hills and Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow,
Rating: PG (language, sexual innuendo)
Quality: TWO STARS (on a scale of zero to four stars)
Imagine if the Three Stooges got up in pasty makeup and
used prom dresses, and you have a picture of the trio of
broom-riding crones at the center of Disney's mumbo-jumbo
witch's brew, "Hocus Pocus."
The Sanderson sisters are three wicked Salem, Mass., harpies
(Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) who
as the story opens are summarily hanged in their home town,
circa 1693, for sucking the life out of a young girl.
But just before they're lynched, the three batty sisters
vow to return when a virgin lights an enchanted candle on
a future All Hallow's Eve.
Leap ahead 300 years, and three local kids - Max (Omri Katz),
his buxom high school girlfriend (Vinessa Shaw) and his
smart-aleck sister (Thora Birch) - sneak into the Sanderson
mansion, now a musty old museum, and Max (a VIRGIN!) lights
the magic candle.
Quicker than you can say "Harlette," Midler and her two
sidekicks are brought back to life. They can stay alive
on one condition - they must feed on the three children
before sunrise in order to rejuvenate their wicked old souls.
From here, the screenplay by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert
conjures up a dreary and predictable narrative in which
the bumbling witches spend the night chasing through cemeteries
after the cute and resourceful prey.
This is one of the oddest releases of the summer, and it's
hard to imagine it finding a broad audience. With the rather
ghoulish deaths of children depicted, it's certainly too
strong for very young moviegoers. The sights of kiddy corpses
here are enough to scare the bejabbers out of most pre-schoolers.
You'd think with Midler at the center of things, there'd
be enough campy, trashy humor to keep adults amused. But
despite some rather clumsy breast jokes and out-of-place
sexual innuendo, Midler is fairly tame. As the narcissistic
old Winifred, she projects a certain rodent quality that's
more unsavory than funny.
Parker is a very un-Disneylike vixen who strokes her broomstick
suggestively, and Najimy (who shone in last summer's hit
"Sister Act") plays a lumpen dimwit. The two are given
very little to do in the shadow of Midler's frantic theatrics.
Director Kenny Ortega ("Newsies") gives the whole thing
the cadence of a song-and-dance show, although the talented
Midler is given only one musical number - a rather strained
version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You."
The director also makes use of a caldron of musty old Disney
gimmicks - a talking black cat, a friendly zombie who keeps
losing his head - but they seem hollow and perfunctory.
"Hocus Pocus" will need a potent spell to save it from
quick exile to the video shelves. Perhaps it deserves that
fate for the troublesome message it delivers about being
a teen-ager and still a virgin. That's poor Max's shame.
It's also this movie's shame. Call it "Hokum Pocus."