NOW PLAYING: Bewitched

Posted: Monday, June 27, 2005


  Nicole Kidman in Columbia Pictures' Bewitched - 2005

Nicole Kidman in Columbia Pictures' Bewitched - 2005

In a town like Hollywood, where sequels and remakes are a dime a dozen, and where the programming on Nick at Night serves as an untapped goldmine, it helps to have a hook, an angle, a gimmick to draw in audiences bored with the same old fare. Sleepless in Seattle director Nora Ephron has just such a hook in her new big screen adaptation of the sixties' classic TV series Bewitched. It is, in fact, not a remake of the show at all. It is a movie about a bunch of Hollywood types trying to shoot a new version of the series, using, without their knowledge, of course, an actual witch. It may sound a little confusing, but it actually works pretty well, for a little while, at least.

Nicole Kidman plays Isabel Bigelow, a frustrated young woman, eager to strike out and make it on her own. She has just one problem. She's a witch, and can have anything, and I mean anything, she wants by simply snapping her fingers or, of course, wiggling her nose. This makes leading a normal life somewhat problematic. In fact, it was a little disturbing the amount of power that our heroine wields. Samantha, on the original show, had powers, of course, but they were just sort of quaint, reserved for quickly cleaning the kitchen, and the like. Isabel is more like an omnipotent goddess who can shape reality to fit her whims, creating people and possessions out of nothing, and writing and rewriting the space-time narrative as she sees fit. This never really results in anything dark or sinister, but the thought of the potential forces contained in that wriggly little nose was a little hard to get my mind around. Will Ferrell is Jack Wyatt, an action star on his way down, looking for a big break. That break comes in the form of Darren on the updated version of the show, and he's not about to let it slip through his grasp. After a slew of auditions, Jack sees Isabel in a bookstore, and instantly knows he's found his Samantha. Little does he know just how right for the part she is. Love soon blooms between the two leads, and with it, problems galore, as you might imagine.

I must admit, the first time I read that they were bringing Bewitched to the big screen, I was not impressed. Sure, there's potential there for special effects, but the show was essentially I Love Lucy with magic tricks, and there seemed little need to revisit it. However, the conceit that the show is in production works, and serves to separate the material adequately from the primary source to have some originality of its own. Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman are both very engaging and attractive personalities and they even have pretty good chemistry. Though the initial introductions to the characters is handled a little clumsily, the real charm is contained in the center 60 minutes of the film as we go through the trials and tribulations of getting the show made and watch as Isabel/Samantha struggles to keep from taking the instant gratification she's always been used to. Michael Caine is charming as ever as Isabel's warlock father, and Shirley Maclaine is perfect, though severely underused, as the TV version of Endora. Supporting characters among the television filmmakers include hilarious performances by Jason Schwartzman, David Allen Grier, and The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert. Eager for a hit with their waning action star, it's a riot watching the executives fall all over themselves to make a Bewitched where the Samantha is perfect, but has no lines, and a Darren no one particularly likes is the star.

The problems arise when, in the name of a snappy climax, Ephron lets the script get away from her. In an effort to be honest with her new love, Isabel admits to Jack that she's a witch, and all hell breaks loose, and not in a good way. Suddenly, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred so much you'll be left scratching your head and wondering what in the heck is going on. Is that character real or imaginary? Are we in the show, or on the studio lot? The logic gets muddy, then murky, then is lost altogether in a last minute flood of old Bewitched references that had yet to make it into the script. The result is a confusing and disheartening end to what had been a cute little romantic comedy up 'til that point. It's a shame that in today's Hollywood, clever ideas are rarely followed through to their natural ends in favor of bland or simply nonsensical little packages with all the loose ends wrapped up for the worst. Bewitched may have been television magic, but translating that to the big screen is anything but a snap. Grade: B-

Bewitched is rated PG-13 for mild language, and a few adult references.

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