The Devil In Jack Nicholson

Posted: June 12, 1987

"The Witches of Eastwick," a supernatural comedy-drama starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. Directed by George Miller. Produced by Neil Canton, Peter Guber and Jon Peters. Screenplay by Michael Cristofer. Based on John Updike's novel. Running Time 121 minutes. Presented by Warner Bros. at area theaters.

Attired in a quilt-like shirt of brilliant reds, blues and greens, Australian director George "Mad Max Trilogy" Miller sat in a posh Park Avenue hotel suite recently, attempting to put into words his feelings about Jack Nicholson - satanic star of Miller's supernatural comedy-drama, "The Witches of Eastwick."

"When you think about a man dressed in a pink cape," Miller said, "with feathers all over him, bursting into a New England church in the middle of a service, ranting and raving about the devil and women while occasionally vomiting cherry pits on members of the congregation, well . . . "

Miller shook his curly head, fingered his slate gray bowtie, laughed nervously. "I mean," he continued, "it takes someone who is totally fearless to pull off something like that."

Fearless doesn't begin to describe the hilarious, schizophrenic, horrific- yet-somehow-lovable Satan that Nicholson delivers in "The Witches of Eastwick."

In his finest efforts - "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Five Easy Pieces," "Chinatown," "Terms of Endearment" and "Prizzi's Honor" - Nicholson has perfected his portrayal of the smart-mouthed, devoutly cynical burnout still capable of being a sap for a dame.

In "Eastwick," which opens today at area theaters, he takes that character further than he has ever taken it before. His eyebrows alone, which he works like snakes in a carnie sideshow, deserve an Oscar nomination and billing above the title.

In a movie that is occasionally interrupted by needless Ghostbusterish special effects - crazed tennis balls, flying co-stars, latex ghouls - Nicholson evokes sympathy for the devil by portraying him as a perverse, woman-hating, spoiled brat possessed of bestial sexual appetites and the worst taste in clothes this side of an Atlantic City lounge act.

Capable of causing pain, suffering and death during his temper tantrums, he simply cannot understand why the women he is hurting have stopped accepting his dinner invitations. "You gals," he whines to Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. "We're a family."

He puts a curse on Pfeiffer that almost kills her, then asks her pal Cher for "a little affection, a little trust . . . All I know is, we were friends and the next minute I was shut out . . . Everything I did, I did for you."

He pouts. He sulks. He wears his hair in a butchered ponytail and his heart on his sleazy satin sleeve. He slinks around his mansion in cheap red slippers with thin crepe soles. His ties are bad, his come-ons worse. ''My," he tells Pfeiffer, a suburban mother of six, upon first meeting her, "you are a fertile creature, aren't you?"

Pfeiffer, Cher and Sarandon play three sexually frustrated, small town New Englanders who eat too many Cheez Whiz on Wheat Thins sandwiches and drink too many martinis one rainy night and begin yearning for "a foreign prince on a big black horse." Instead, they get the Prince of Darkness in a big black Mercedes.

He seduces them all. They move into his mansion, eat his elaborate fruit salads, play in his roomful of pink balloons. Then he starts hurting them and they discover that, united, they are possessed of unearthly powers of their own. Eventually, all hell breaks loose.

"Eastwick" is blessed with an unusually well-written screenplay by Michael ''The Shadow Box" Cristofer and strong supporting performances by all three of its witches, especially Sarandon whose seduction while playing the cello is a small masterpiece of comic invention.

Nicholson, however, is the reason to go. In a film that occasionally trips over its supernatural technical tricks, Nicholson proves to be the greatest special effect of them all.

PARENTAL GUIDE: Rated R for four-letter language and macabre effects that will frighten children.

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