Bewitched (2005) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual references, drug references, and partial nudity
Running Time: 101 min.

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman, Shirley MacLaine, Kristin Chenoweth, Heather Burns, Jim Turner, Stephen Colbert, David Alan Grier, Michael Badalucco, Carole Shelley, Steve Carell, James Lipton (cameo), Conan O'Brien (cameo), Ed McMahon (cameo)
Director: Nora Ephron
Screenplay: Nora Ephron
Review published June 26, 2005

Bewitched is a cute idea for a movie, but that's all it is. It certainly sounds funnier to hear about than to actually watch.  It's not a remake of the television show of the same name, but it is a movie about the making of a remake of the television show, with various actors playing actors playing the roles like they did way back when.  One of the core problems with the movie is that it seems more interested in recreating the nostalgic feel of romantic comedies of the 1960s, rather than the feel of the original television show.  Perhaps more accurately, director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail) probably remembers the television show as a whimsical romantic sitcom that is beloved by one and all. 

My recollection of the oft-rerun show is that it was funny for its time, with a likeable ensemble of actors, but the on-joke premise of a witch trying not to be a witch grew thin rather quickly, despite the fact that the original show lasted eight years.  Virtually the same thing can be said about this movie, which starts off promisingly, only to disintegrate into not-too-funny behind the scenes shenanigans about the making of a television show, and squabbles about which character is more beloved and receiving the most screen time.

Kidman (The Interpreter, Birth) stars as Isabel Bigelow, a real-life witch, albeit a bit on the ditzy side, but with a heart of gold.  She wants desperately to be a stereotypical housewife, eschewing her witch roots for a two-story house with a picket fence, and hopefully, a husband who loves her for her.  Will Ferrell (Kicking & Screaming, Melinda and Melinda) co-stars as Jack Wyatt, a down-and-out movie actor that has had nothing but bombs at the box office.  He hopes that he can do better in television in the revival of the TV show, "Bewitched", although he will playing the thankless role of Darren, the least flamboyant of the characters.  Not wanting to be upstaged, he insists that the producers cast a nobody into the part of Samantha, so the hunt is on for a new face to play the part.  Jack just happens to stumble onto the right woman for the job when he spies Isabel, and with the promise of getting to know Jack better (she is attracted to his attraction for her), she consents.  However, problems arise when Jack all but writes Isabel out of the scripts, focusing the show almost exclusively on Darren.  Once Isabel catches wind, she is furious, and soon turns the tables on Jack and the producers, resulting in a tug-of-war for control of the show, as well as for what jack Wyatt is really all about underneath.

In a case of life imitating art, just as Darren upstages Samantha in the update of "Bewitched" within the framework of this movie, so too does Will Ferrell do the same for Nicole Kidman by stealing most of the laughs with a manic performance.  Not that Kidman isn't appealing in the role, as she is cute, charming, and willing to share the limelight more than most would have.  However, this kind of fluff role is somewhat beneath someone of her talents, as we've seen her play far too many strong, intelligent roles to really buy her in the role of a daft airhead who is easily duped and seduced by the first guy that comes along.  Romantic lead isn't quite Ferrell's forte either, but somehow he finds opportunities to do his "man on the verge" shtick enough, managing to squeak out a few laughs due to his mastery of physical delivery. 

Writer-director Nora Ephron makes a big screen return after five years, but with some mixed results.  The main premise is ingenious, but her execution proves to be flawed, particularly as she mounts all of these characters into a high-concept vehicle, only to try to jettison the behemoth before the end to be the cutesy romantic comedy she probably wanted it to be from the outset.  Unfortunately, by that time, it's too late for that, and the ending feels mostly like desperation for a feel-good summation resulting in a possible sequel.  If only the romantic tone had been carried throughout, we'd probably be looking at a much more successful film here, although the chemistry between Kidman and Ferrell is practically nonexistent.

Bewitched is a bit of a mess, so I wouldn't really recommend shelling out good money for it unless you absolutely have an insatiable yen to see it.  As a rental or on cable, it will probably fare better, where the sitcom antics will seem much more at home on the small screen.  Try as Ephron might to make this a wonderful, sweep-you-off-your-feet experience, it's only a grim reminder that there is no such thing as magic.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo