Picks and Pans Review: Hocus Pocus

updated 07/26/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/26/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Belle Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker

Midler, her red wig a whipped me ringue mountain and her front teeth protruding like the blade of a snowplow, plays a witch here. Put to death back in 1693 in Salem, Mass., her character has now returned of Halloween night intent on sucking tin life's breath from the town's children to restore her own youth. First, though, she crashes a costume party, where she is mistaken for just another adult guest. Climbing onstage, she belts out "I Put a Spell on You" with all the attitude and vigor of a diva finally back after 300 years between engagements.

It's a great scene. Were that then were more of them in this cluttered muddle of a movie. Hocus can't make up its mind whether it's a campy vehicle for Midler and her witchy siblings played by Najimy and Parker, or a thriller aimed at kids, about how three plucky children foil this evil sister act.

Director Kenny Ortega shows little feel for the material. The three leading ladies, encumbered by layers of latex, huge wigs and voluminous costumes, are rarely allowed to cut loose. Of the younger cast members, Omri Katz and Vinessa Shaw are passable as the adolescent hero and heroine, while cute little Thora Birch, playing Katz's wisenheimer kid sister, neatly steals every scene she's in. (PG)

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