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MAGICAL IMAGERY CAN'T KEEP `THE CRAFT' FROM SINKING

You've no doubt seen the ad on television that shows four girls getting off a city bus as the driver tells them to "watch out for those weirdos" - and one of the girls replies, "Mister, we are the weirdos."

That pretty much sums up "The Craft," a cross between "Carrie" and "The Witches of Eastwick," which has four misfit girls in a parochial high school dabbling in witchcraft and unexpectedly conjuring up tremendous powers.The girls, who like to wear black lipstick, black nail polish and black clothing, are misunderstood and/or abused, surrounded by sup-pos-ed-ly "normal" kids on campus who are actually quite cruel, while adults are either dolts or absent.

The film is told from the viewpoint of Sarah (Robin Tunney), a new girl in the L.A. school, who has trouble fitting in. But she is soon taken in by Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True), who have been tentatively and not too successfully trying their hands at witchcraft.

When Bonnie spots Sarah in a class making her pencil balance on its point and slowly turning it around without touching it, she immediately decides that this is "their fourth," someone to join them in properly performing rituals at the four compass points.

What they don't realize is that Sarah is a "natural witch," possessing powers even she isn't even fully aware of.

Initially, the girls perform simple little spells to get revenge on those who have wronged them - the bigots in the swim class who have made racist remarks to Rochelle, the football jock who lied and told his friends that he had sex with Sarah, Nancy's alcoholic mother and abusive "stepfather," along with a spell designed to heal the burn scars that cover Bonnie's back.

But as the spells take hold, they go too far - with a couple of people getting killed. And eventually the girls are told by an adult witch that every spell they perform will come back on them threefold.

This gives Sarah pause, and she tries to right the wrongs they've done, but the other three get cocky - especially Nancy. And in the end, Sarah must square off against Nancy in a special-effects battle of the witches, complete with loads of yucky creepy crawly insects and reptiles.

This is all pretty silly stuff, of course, but the players are game, performing earnestly; there's a tongue-in-cheek feeling about it all - and the early scenes hold some real promise.

But soon there are more holes than ideas in the plot, characters are poorly developed and it becomes apparent that the filmmakers are more interested in wild visual imagery than telling a story.

"The Craft" is rated R for violence, attempted rape, sex, profanity, vulgarity and racial epithets.