Film review: Magic Hunter

Published: Friday, March 21 1997 5:47 p.m. MST

Police officers have been taking it on the chin lately in movies and in television, but now things are getting really ridiculous.

In "Magic Hunter," a disappointingly uneven black comedy/fantasy from writer-director Ildiko Enyedi ("My Twentieth Century"), Kaspar (Peter Vallai), a Hungarian police officer, is actually the devil, who tries to tempt one of his co-workers into damnation.

Kaspar's unwitting victim is Max (Gary Kemp), a police sharpshooter who's really fallen on some hard times. During a rescue attempt, Max accidentally shoots a hostage, which leads him and his supervisors to question his abilities.

Asked to pass a marksmanship test to be reinstated, Max is understandably nervous - at least until the mysterious, gray-haired Kas-par slips him three bullets with bizarre markings. All three shots Max fires are bull's eyes and he is reassigned to protect Maxim (Alexander Kaidanovsky), a visiting Russian chess champ.

As a consequence, Max begs Kaspar to get him more of the magic bullets, which he does, seemingly in exchange for nothing. What he doesn't know is that six of the bullets will hit their marks, while the seventh will hit a target selected by the devil.

In the meantime, Maxim has struck up a friendship with Lili (Alexandra Wasscher), Max's daughter, and perhaps more than just a friendship with his wife, Eva (Sadie Frost), which makes his job that much harder.

Inspired by the German opera "Der Freischutz," musical excerpts of which appear in the film, "Magic Hunter" attempts to be a fairy tale about temptation and about drawing hope from the past. Unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down with some scenes that go on forever, and it is saddled with a preposterous metaphysical ending.

And speaking of excerpts, Enyedi interrupts the narrative with a subplot about the devil's influence in medieval times (with Vallai playing a more conventional devil), which is sporadically interesting, but is more often befuddling - especially the bit about the painting of the Virgin Mary coming to life.

Confusing things even more is the fact that this is all supposed to be a story told to a frightened child (also played by Wasscher) by her mother (Frost again), while the two hide in a fallout shelter during World War II.

Enyedi has an interesting visual style, but she's too busy to concentrate on the storyline. Kemp's stony performance also hurts things, especially when Frost, Vallai and Kaidanovsky are so much better.

"Magic Hunter" is unrated but would likely receive an R for violence, a glimpse at Frost's completely nude body, some profanity, a very discreet sex scene and one vulgar gag.