Directed by Nora Ephron
Bewitched starts off light and breezy but winds up burning itself at the stake.
Instead of merely making a 90-minute big screen episode of the much beloved TV series Bewitched, this super-sized rendition features a fairly clever conceit: Starved for ideas, Hollywood wants to revive and modernize the classic show. Unwittingly, they hire a real witch to play Samantha.
As fate would have it, Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge) is caught wriggling her cute little nose at a book store patronized by Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell, Elf). Jack is a full-of-himself movie star going through a divorce and suffering the repercussions of the biggest box office fiasco in the history of cinema, a movie so bad that its DVD release sold exactly zero copies.
Throwing his weight around, Jack gets his way, and the total unknown Isabel is cast as his TV wife. In order to satisfy Jack's massive ego, Isabel's Samantha is given minimal screen time and few lines.
All Isabel really wants is to give up witchcraft and live the American dream: own a house, have a regular job, and be married to a loving, doting man. But giving up the snap-your-fingers-and-you"ve-got-it lifestyle is easier said than done. There's always a reason to fall back on the old ways, whether it be installing the cable TV or exposing Jack as the real ass that he is.
And with that, the battle of the sexes begins.
WWSD: What Would Samantha Do?
Well, it's not really a battle of the sexes. And that's the biggest problem with Bewitched. It simply doesn't take advantage of the possibilities and it has nothing to say about the current state of domestic affairs compared to the 1960s, when Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha entered households on a weekly basis.
The movie seems to look down on the quaint simplicity of the values and humor presented in the TV show; plenty of clips, quips, and props from the original show are on display. But, aggravatingly, the movie ultimately cops out, and, rather than fulfilling its promise of updating its progenitor, it winds up mining the exact same material, spiraling down to a simple paint-by-numbers romance that is hard to accept.
As clever as some of the dialogue and some of the story are, the sum total doesn't amount to much and it's mostly forgotten on the way back to the car.
A good portion of the problem is that most of the movie feels like yet another Generic Will Ferrell Movie. He gets plenty of screen time and more than enough opportunities to plunder his Saturday Night Live oeuvre.
Sure, it's funny when it sets in on Jack that Darrin was originally played by Dick York and replaced by Dick Sargent without the audience even noticing and that his own future has suddenly gotten that much more uncertain. Alas, for every Ferrell joke that succeeds, he also has one or two that tanks.
The minuses of the movie at least get the benefit of being offset by some big positives.
Steve Carell (Bruce Almighty) nearly steals the show as a dead-on reincarnation of Uncle Arthur, the devilishly funny character originally played by Paul Lynde. Heather Burns (the Miss Congeniality saga) also makes the most of her role as Nina, a spunky crewmember who would just as soon see Jack take a bullet as anything else.
And, even with Ferrell hogging the frame in almost every scene, Kidman still manages to shine; she carries with her a natural radiance and she's oh-so-cute as both the new Samantha and, yes, the bewitching Isabel.
There's no doubt the Ferrell factor can be blamed on co-writer Adam McKay, who far from coincidentally wrote for Saturday Night Live as well as co-wrote, with Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ferrell's shtick sticks out like a broken broomstick from the rest of the brew conjured up by the Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia.
Nora's most famous for writing When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless in Seattle, but she also created the heavy-handed Michael and the highly scorned Mixed Nuts.
Here, all those influences are on display and it's a shame that, while the first two acts are amiable and easy-going enough, there isn't enough magic to keep the movie afloat during its torturous snoozer of a third act.
If only Isabel could wriggle her nose, make Ferrell disappear, and get a show all her own. Now that would be a magical tale.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.