Ethics & Public Policy Center

Rough Magic

Published in EPPC Online on May 1, 1997



Rough Magic written and directed by Clare Peploe has got to be a contender for worst movie of the year. It’s a real stinker. The worst thing about it is its preposterous plot, full of what is obviously meant to look like bits of “magic realism” but coming across instead as a sort of cartoon with a talking dog and a man turned into a sausage. Even in a crowded field of impossible and merely fanciful stories, this stands out. But in addition, Ms Peploe has also managed to write some of the lamest dialogue ever to appear on the silver screen since the late Ed Wood laid down his pen. Here, for example, is an instance of what she obviously thinks of as witty repartee between a handsome young man called Alex Ross (Russell Crowe), living in dissolute life in Mexico, and an attractive gringa called Myra (Bridget Fonda), well-dressed and driving a new Buick, whom he’s trying to get to know better.

“If I couldn’t smell tamales cookin’, I’d swear I’d died and gone to heaven,” says fresh Alex.

“Lie down under the back wheels, and I’ll see what I can do to get you there,” says saucy Myra.

Obviously, the two are destined for each other, as we see again not long afterwards when she breathes fire in the face of a bully and singes his hair off. “For a sweet little girl, you sure play rough,” says Ross.

“I can also play nice; depends on whose fingers are playing the keys.”

The film, set in 1952-53, is shot through with such examples of sparkling repartee, but, bad as that is, it is not as bad as its political agenda, whose silliness stands out even among the many examples of Hollywood silliness. Myra is on the run from a brutish and corrupt U.S. Senator (D.W. Moffett) who wants (gasp!) to marry her and shower her with material possessions. She, needless to say, is not having any of that. The Senator is obscurely associated with Richard Nixon and his family’s fortune comes from uranium. He even worships in what he calls “a church of atomic science.” Myra, by contrast, is a magician and worships an Indian earth goddess and shaman who chants to her sister the moon about how “the earth is bleeding” and “men are killing it.” The shaman also brews her up a potent elixir that makes the wilder sorts of magic happen.

Will she marry the Senator or the hard-drinking Ross, a seedy drop-out and ex-marine who went to Mexico because “something spooked him — something about taking pictures of the Nips after the bomb” ? See if you can guess. Does she become a true adept of the primitive magic and nature religion or is she sucked back into the soulless consumerism of 1950s America? Take a wild stab. And I wonder if you can tell which of these characters turns out in the end, much to the others’ amusement, to be gay? But don’t think there’s not a surprise or two in store. For the final shot, after the happy couple have disappeared into their honeymoon suite, is one of truly stunning tastelessness: two rabbits copulating.

Well, you expected maybe Hitchcock?

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