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TRYING TO KEEP CUPID AT BAY IN SITCOM-SWEET 'BUTCHER'S WIFE'

REVIEW
The Butcher's Wife

Rating:*** 1/2
Demi Moore as a clairvoyant married to a Manhattan butcher. With Jeff Daniels, Margaret Colin and George Dzundza. Directed by Terry Hughes.

Rated PG-13, at the Maple Ridge, Market Arcade and Walden Galleria theaters.

Demi Moore has never looked lovelier than she does in "The Butcher's Wife." If a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and the earliest stages of pregnancy can make beauty bloom as bountifully as this, the movie may yet cause a small run on both.

This is post-"Ghost" Demi Moore, the one who's a star, not a promising starlet with a cozy, scratchy voice (and not Mrs. Bruce Willis, either). Whatever else the movie does, it turns into Moore into a delectable vision.

My guess is that's exactly what it was intended to do. If ever a movie had "star vehicle" printed neatly in block letters along the side, it's "The Butcher's Wife." This is the kind of movie in which a wisp of wind blows through everyone's hair whenever they're in the same shot as the star.

It's a charming little fantasy about the sudden marriage of a corpulent Manhattan butcher (George Dzundza, formerly of TV's "Law & Order") and a clairvoyant from North Carolina (Moore).

She's a vision of pastoral purity who comes to the Big Apple with nothing but a large wardrobe of white peasant blouses, the gift of second sight and the friendly, small-town talent for turning all the grumbling urban neurotics in the environs into a neighborhood.

One of them is a tall, gawky psychiatrist (Daniels) who keepsadmonishing her that she's muscling in on his territory with all her instant psychic readings. He is the romantic Other of her destiny, despite prior amatory involvements for them both.

Once the wide-eyed opening enchantment abates, then, it turns into a little waltz performed by magic (Moore) and reason (Daniels), with Eros the ultimate winner.

In other words, we're in the fantasy territory of James Stewart and Kim Novak in "Bell, Book and Candle" or, with sex roles reversed, Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in the delightful 1947 film of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (the later TV series was a significant comedown).

Every life touched by the sweet second sight of the butcher's wife suddenly starts taking wing. The dress shop owner renews her faith in romance, as does the psychiatrist's forlorn live-in (Margaret Colin), etc.

"The Butcher's Wife," then, should have floated airily through 90 minutes of well-oxygenated fantasy.

It doesn't. It falls to earth quickly and congeals into rambunctious and mediocre television (director Terry Hughes has won Emmys for "The Golden Girls").

All the initial magic turns into strenuous sitcom farce in the middle.

While the clairvoyant and the psychiatrist spend the whole movie pointlessly trying to keep Cupid at bay, the newly married butcher himself has come completely under the thrall of the neighborhood church lady in her nocturnal incarnation as a blues singer at the local gin mill.

It seems that the butcher is enamored of the music of Bessie Smith. I must confess, right about here, that I got a belly laugh out of the moment when the smitten choir director leads the cherubim in her charge in an angelic version of Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer."

There is, unfortunately, a cinematic no-man's-land where knee-jerk TV and the worst of Broadway meet. That's where all too much of "The Butcher's Wife" is tethered, instead of floating off the way it should have done.

You can't blame Demi Moore for any of that, though. She's every bit the vision that was intended. It's not her fault that she's tied to earth by a fantasy that can never quite grow a pair of wings.

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