2005-07-01 / Columns

I was going to skip this one because an update of a ’60s TV sitcom made about as much sense as another comic book actionhero flick. But I was taken in by the film’s buzz: What if a real-life witch was inadvertently cast in the Elizabeth Montgomery role of a TV remake of the classic ’60s series? What type of dark and twisted Hollywood spoof might evolve?

Thus, “Bewitched” began for me with hopeful potential. Director Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) and producer Penny Marshall (“Big”) had the clout to strip away the tacky ’60s varnish and give us something wonderfully imaginative or—my own personal preference—a foreboding Hollywood parable about the common man’s (or witch’s) rage against the machine.

Barring that, how about a magically inventive love story?

Unfortunately, “Bewitched” is none of the above. It is little more than an insipid and incoherent rom-com, trapped in its own TV Land time warp. Even as a TV movie, it wouldn’t have held my interest, but at $10 a pop—well, my advice is to wait for the rerun.

The gist is this: Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) is a witch who moves to the Valley to fall in love with a mortal and live a normal life. Samantha, it seems, was a role model for a whole fresh-faced generation.

Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) is a has-been film actor whose last resort of a career move is to reprise the role of Darrin in a television remake of the 1964-72 TV series. An egotistical camera hog, Jack wants to play against a complete

unknown (and any likeness in that

regard to Tom Cruise is, well, in

teresting, hmmm?). Jack spies

Isabel in a bookstore, by happen

stance wiggling her nose (remem

ber Samantha’s magic twitch?) and

chooses her as his co-star on the

spot. In one (the one) clever scene, in an impromptu script reading, the producers and writers marvel at how easily the novice Isabel captures the feel of witchdom. And so she’s hired.

The remainder of the film is Isabel falling in and out of love with the loutish Wyatt (i.e., the loutish Ferrell). The plot from here is forced, piecemeal and only sporadically funny, focusing on Isabel’s incomprehensible attraction to her co-star. As for her unearthly powers, Isabel’s ace-in-thehole spell is to rewind time (that would be a scene or two thrown in reverse, in a special effects tour de force). The spell gives her a chance to redo her lovelorn mistakes of the past.

Co-stars Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine are wasted in this one and, frankly, Will Ferrell doesn’t do it for me either. (Owen Wilson as Darrin? That might have

been fun.) I’m not a fan of Ferrell’s

in the same way I wasn’t a fan of

Adam Sandler until “50 First

Dates” and “Spanglish” or of Jim

Carrey’s until “Eternal Sunshine of

the Spotless Mind.” So there is

hope. But pratfall comedians try

ing to make it as romantic leads is

as silly as rock ’n’ rollers trying to

make it as romantic leads. (Think

Elvis.) Ferrell can’t get away from

the SNL-sketch routine madness,

and for me that’s not nearly worth

the price of admission.

Another sticking point in my mind: why “Bewitched” at all? Simply because of name recognition? The original series came along (as did “I Dream of Jeannie”) at a time when women were moving out of the social shadows of a male-dominated society. TV’s gentle elbowing not only made the transition more agreeable, I suspect it made it possible. Recent films like “The Stepford Wives” and “Alfie”—and now “Bewitched”—miss that point entirely. There’s new, significant social chaos. Go chase after today’s problems instead of rehashing the socially dead ones.

I’m not a Nicole Kidman fan either, although I’ll admit she’s the film’s one bright spot. I think there’s a hint of comedic talent there that director Ephron didn’t utilize. Kidman has proven she can do serious acting, but what’s the old adage about death being easy, comedy being hard? I think the actress could be great in the right comedic role.

In a nutshell: Unless you’re a diehard “Bewitched” fan (with no sense of plot structure and comedic timing), or unless you’re under 12, I’d skip this one. There just isn’t the continuity or the fun to make it worthwhile.

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