Starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Steve Carell, Heather Burns, Jim Turner, Stephen Colbert, David Allen Grier, Michael Badalucco, Carol Shelley, Katie Finneran, James Lipton, Conan O’Brien, Ed McMahon, Mo Rocca, Kate Walsh, Amy Sedaris and Richard Kind.
Screenplay by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron.
Directed by Nora Ephron.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Post-modern irony can be a curse. Case in point – the new movie version of sixties TV classic Bewitched. You remember the story; a beautiful young witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) falls in love with a mortal (Dick York/Sargent) and decides to try a life of quiet domesticity.
It is a smart, compact storyline that stands on its own. There is enough meat on the bones that this could be a very good movie.
This isn’t that movie, though. For some reason, they had to gimmick it up. They had to give it an exceedingly clever and precious makeover to show that they are not looking at this TV icon through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Instead, they are taking it on with a raised eyebrow and tongue planted firmly in cheek.
So now, we have an extremely convoluted storyline on top of the simple one. The film tries to smash together two levels of reality in which only one was needed and one works. They burden the film with a Hollywood satire that falls stunningly flat.
The new, ironically-detached Bewitched is the story of Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a self-absorbed has-been movie star whose career has plummeted so far that the only job he can get is starring as Darrin in a TV series remake of the 60s sitcom. As portrayed by Ferrell and the screenplay, Wyatt seems nearly schizophrenic – one moment he is a nice, genuinely feeling guy and the next he is monstrously egotistical. In fact, Wyatt changes his personality and his thrust so often in this film that Ferrell must have gotten whiplash playing him.
Wyatt does recognize the desperate state of his career though, so he insists upon casting a complete unknown as his magical wife Samantha. That way, he figures, he will not be overshadowed by his co-star. Unfortunately, the casting people seem to have come upon a stifling roadblock in finding a woman who can do the nose-twitch thing that Elizabeth Montgomery did in the series. This leads to not one, but two, montage scenes of actresses who are unable to twitch their nose on cue. (It’s hard to believe that it is quite as difficult a skill as the movie suggests.)
Jack finally finds his Samantha when he sees Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) sneezing at a book store. She’s pretty and she can move her nose like a rabbit – who cares if she can act? However – coincidental complication time here – unbeknownst to Jack, Isabel really is a witch. A witch, who, ironically, has decided to give up her magic to try a life of quiet domesticity. And, irony squared, one who is interested in settling down with a mortal and is considering Jack.
All of this complicated new concept struggles to fit into what is essentially a puffy romantic comedy.
And writer/director Nora Ephron (Sleepless In Seattle) keeps piling it on. The hammy old actress hired to play Samantha’s mother Endora (Shirley MacLaine) may just be a witch, too. The movie can’t even keep track of its own high concept – in late scenes when Steve Carell (The Office) pops up – out-flamboyanting even the late, great Paul Lynde in his character of Uncle Arthur, we are told that Arthur is Isabel’s uncle. But in the series he was Samantha’s uncle. We have been led to believe that Isabel and Samantha are totally separate characters; in fact Samantha is essentially only a figment of some old sitcom writer’s imagination. So how do they have the same uncle?
All of this wouldn’t matter so much, I suppose, if it was all funny.
It’s not a good sign that the one laugh-out-loud moment in this film comes in the opening minutes. (I won’t spoil the joke, let’s just say it is Michael Caine’s reaction to his daughter’s contention that warlocks are shallow and demand instant gratification). The rest of Bewitched is, sadly, all downhill from there.
A big part of the problem is generated by the leads. Ferrell and Kidman appear to be acting in two different films. Kidman actually gives Isabel an interesting characterization. Unlike Samantha’s sexy suburban housewife with a touch of a bad streak, Isabel is a surprisingly naive and trusting character. We may have cared about her more if she wasn’t stuck on such an unlikable slob as Jack.
The Hollywood-types, as portrayed by Jason Schwartzman as Jack’s sharky agent and Broadway pixie Kristin Chenoweth as Isabel’s impossibly over-the-top divorcee best friend are tired and pointless stereotypes.
Other than Kidman, the only person who comes out of this film unscathed is Michael Caine as Isabel’s warlock father. With this role and Caine’s turn in Batman Begins, this is the second time in two weeks that he has been the brightest spot in a horribly overwrought summer blockbuster based on a past classic. (6/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 27, 2005.