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A Simple Wish

(This review originally appeared in the July 17-23, 1997 Long Island Voice.)

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

A Simple Wish is Hollywood at its most depressing, a comedy/fantasy from director Michael Ritchie that squanders a great cast and a story with tons of possibilities, leaving embarrassed stars in its wake.

The basic idea is that Annabel (the adorable Mara Wilson), desperately wants her father to get a role in a new Broadway musical. So Annabel makes a wish and her fairy godmother, err, godfather, shows up. According to the studio, Murray (Martin Short) is the first male fairy godmother as mandated by affirmative action. That could be funny, but they dance around that point all the while making Murray embarrassed and defensive about it.

Regardless, Murray is not very good at granting wishes. Martin Short is extremely talented and is particularly good at physical comedy and creating eccentric characters, such as the Esperanto-R-Us caterer in Father of the Bride. But his Murray just ends up a mass of tics and mannerisms that don’t quite work. It seems like the script, direction, etc. was working at odds with each other, pulling in different directions. Internal consistency is non-existent.

Most of Murray’s magical mishaps are due to misunderstandings or his not quite zeroing in on what Annabel wants. For instance, instead of changing someone into a little rabbit, the person becomes a 50-foot rabbi. OK, I get the rabbi/rabbit bit, but how do you confuse "little" with a giant? The main mishap is when he turns Annabel’s father (the wasted Robert Pastorelli) into a statue. How a spell intended to ensure his success ends up doing that is never explained. Worse, a time limit is imposed upon how long they have to reverse the spell even though that’s not consistent with Boots’ transformation or the spell that traps the Fairy Godmother Queen. It’s as if someone realized the film needed more urgency so they slapped that in.

Complicating the mess is Claudia, a fairy godmother suspended for granting herself wishes. So, Claudia steals everyone’s wands while they’re at the annual party. Kathleen Turner tries hard and should have been hysterically funny, but like everything else, it doesn’t quite work. Worse, the costumer makes her look like an overstuffed couch. Though at least Turner doesn’t have to suffer through jokes about overeating like Teri Garr does.

The only character who works is Amanda Plummer as Boots, a dog Claudia turned into a human. Boots is funny, and Plummer has a field day working barking into her speech (RRRRRRight!), sniffing out magic or being distracted by shoes.

A Simple Wish will even annoy the New Age community because the film claims witches are the opposite of good fairy godmothers. Isn’t that going to confuse the kiddies who adore The Wizard of Oz? Glinda the Good Witch is totally different than Claudia, but the film implies otherwise.

A Simple Wish is totally illogical and lacks the charm that could make up for it. Once it’s apparent Murray’s is the only wand available, why not let a more experienced fairy godmother borrow it? Or have another fairy godmother accompany them?

I would only recommend A Simple Wish if you’ve run out of ways to entertain the kids this summer. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money. Don’t even bother renting it. Wait for TV. You won’t have missed much.

Accompanying photographs  1997 Universal Pictures.