Director – Clare Peploe, Screenplay – Clare Peploe, William Brookfield & Robert Mundi, Based on the Novel Miss Shumway Waves a Wand by James Hadley, Producers – Declan Baldwin & Laurie Parker, Photography – John J. Campbell, Music – Richard Hartley, Special Effects – Laurencio ‘Chovy’ Cordero & Andre G. Ellington, Production Design – Waldemar Kalinowsky. Production Company – UGC Images.
Bridget Fonda (Myra Shumway), Russell Crowe (Alex Ross), Jim Broadbent (Doc Ansell), D.W. Moffett (Cliff Wyatt), Paul Rodrigurez (Diego), Kenneth Mars (Ivan the Terrific), Andy Romano (Clayton), Euva Anderson (Tojola/Diego’s wife)
Myra Shumway is an assistant to the stage magician Ivan the Terrific. Her fiancee, wealthy senatorial candidate Cliff Wyatt, then accidentally kills Ivan with a prop gun during an argument. Myra flees to Mexico with a photo that can incriminate Wyatt. On the other side of the border, she is pursued by a host of people including Cliff; Diego, a Mexican thug seeking revenge on her for humiliating him; Doc Ansell, a wily conman seeking to exploit her talents; and Alex Ross, a burned-out journalist that she starts to fall for. Ansell persuades her to undergo a native ceremony to obtain a potion of reputed healing power. Myra is alarmed to emerge from this with real magical powers.
This was one of several Hollywood films during the late 1980s/1990s to venture into the Latino Magical Realist tradition and appropriate it for usually light romantic purposes. See other variants made around this time such as The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Butcher’s Wife (1991), The House of the Spirits (1993), Simply Irresistible (1999), Chocolat (2000) and Woman on Top (2000). Far better were the efforts that came from Latin America themselves with the likes of Like Water for Chocolate (1992) and Life is Whistling (1998).
Rough Magic is an amusing and unusual film. It is an extremely wild plot that the film stirs up including:– a magician’s assistant on the run from a murder, her corrupt senatorial fiancee, petty Latino hoods, a burned-out journalist haunted by the specter of Nagasaki, a likeably roguish snake-oil salesman, a magician who is killed but doesn’t quite die and a talking dog. One never knows where the plot is going to turn next. Certainly, the film’s turns into outright fantasy – one character accidentally transformed into a sausage, the accidental killing of the love interest and the disappearance of Bridget Fonda’s heart – are among some of its more outrageous moments. It proves rather enjoyable even if in the end director Clare Peploe is far too kind-hearted to be cruel to any of her characters, allowing even the villains to be redeemed and returned to normal for the all-round happy ending.
Peploe makes good use of a strong cast. Bridget Fonda is one of the most cold-blooded and unwelcoming actresses in the business but Peploe actually works with her to create a forceful and interesting character. The show is stolen though by Jim Broadbent in an appealing performance as the drunken petty conman. Russell Crowe, some years before A-list stardom and Academy Awards, is the only one in the line-up who appears to be on auto-pilot.
Clare Peploe had written several films for her husband Bernardo Bertolucci – La Luna (1979) and Besieged (1998) – although her best known work was probably as co-writer of the counter-culture cult classic Zabriskie Point (1971). Her other directorial outings have been High Season (1987), a romantic comedy set on the Greek islands, and the subsequent period romantic fantasy The Triumph of Love (2001).