Like its characters, Rough Magic
has a lot on its mind and only the vaguest of ideas on where it's headed. A love story-cum-magical adventure-noir, Peploe's film goes in so many different directions at once that by the time it finally reaches its conclusion, viewers may feel as though they've spent the last 90 minutes riding with Mr. Toad. It's 1950s Los Angeles, and Myra Shumway (Fonda), an endearingly ditzy magician's assistant, is engaged to marry wealthy uranium magnate and all-around S.O.B. Cliff Wyatt. Unfortunately, while backstage after Myra's final performance, Cliff accidentally shoots the magician (Kenneth Mars) as his fiancee captures the act on film. Horrified that her longtime mentor has just been killed before her eyes, Myra takes the photographic proof and heads south of the border where she hooks up with snake-oil salesman Doc Ansell (Broadbent), a colorful rogue with a mild taste for fleecing the public. Doc convinces Myra to help him obtain the mystical potion jealously guarded by an ancient Mayan shaman woman, which she does, with predictably disastrous results. Into this series of escapades comes Alex Ross (Crowe), a down-on-his-luck reporter hired by the scheming Cliff to locate Myra. While at first adversaries, Alex and Myra quickly fall in love which lasts until Cliff's appearance in Mexico (and some truly bizarre magical goings-on) cause a fallout of immense proportions. If that sounds like a lot to swallow, it is, and Peploe doesn't make things any easier when she throws in all sorts of trite mystical meanderings. On top of the understandably oddball occurrences peppered throughout her film, Fonda and Crowe have all the romantic chemistry of Ernest Borgnine and Animal from The Muppet Show.
Not only do the sparks not fly, at times Crowe's misguided attempts at roguish noir stylings come off as downright laughable. Only Broadbent as the drunken pitchman and Moffett as the power-mad Cliff possess any zing. Rough Magic
may have its heart in the right place, but honestly, that's about all.