To be sure Ms. Midler is f u n ny as Winnifred Sanderson, a child hating old hag from Salem, Mass, who keeps her eternal youth by sucking the life force out of young girls. In the movie’s prologue, Winnie and her sisters (Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker) have just relieved a young girl of her life, when the townspeople show tip.
The sisters, caught red-handed, are strung up, but not before t u r ning a colonial boy into a cat and weaving a spell calling for their return if a virgin lights a special candle.
Fast-forward to 1993 and Max (Omri Katz) is sitting in class listening to the tale of the Sanderson’s spells, wondering how such lame myths got started in the first place. Only the attentions of beautiful Allison (Vinessa Shaw) make the kid care about Salem’s past.
Later that night, Max takes his kid sister Dani (Thora Birch) out trick-or-treating and they event u a l ly make their way to the h a u n t ed Sanderson place. Max, ever the cynic (and a virgin), lights the black-flame candle, which, if
i g n i t ed by a virgin, brings back the t h r ee hags.
No sooner than you can say “ain’t that a witch,” Winnie and her sisters are back and they want Dani.
Mi d l e r, encased in even more m a k e up than she wore in “For the Boys,” overcomes the bad script and worse jokes to make this movie funny. Her co-stars, Ms. N a j i my (“Sister Act”) and Ms. Parker, don’t fare as well. They’re just
window dressing. Or in this case, broom dressing.
Ms. Parker’s bimbo witch, sort of a Jessica Halm with graveyard br e a th, has potential, but the movie ignores her. Indeed, once the sisters return to 1993 Salem, the special effects take over and not even a Bette Midler version of
the sound classic “I Put a Spell on You” can save things.
Since this movie is produced by Disney, there is plenty of kiddie humor and even a talking cat named Binx. That will make the kids laugh, but if you’re old enough to know why Salem has witches, this movie is out of your league.