Bewitched, or just befuddled?
EVERY OTHER film to come out of Hollywood at the moment seems to be a remake of some old TV series, so it was inevitable they would eventually get around to the 60s series Bewitched. Nicole Kidman is more ditz than kitsch as the domestic sorceress Isabel and, while Will Ferrell is naturally funny as the mortal Jack who falls in love with her, it just doesn’t seem to work.
Set in Hollywood, a television company is planning to remake TV’s Bewitched as a vehicle for vain, washed-up movie star, Jack Wyatt. Jack wants an unknown to play Samantha so he can really shine. In steps Isabel.
After arriving in LA Mary Poppins style, gliding down in a shower of flower petals and moving into her charming, little, modern bungalow, with a cute VW in the garage, she decides she’d rather live a normal life than snap her fingers and get everything she wants. Naturally, it’s hard to break the habit, especially for someone who can’t figure out the video recorder. Isabel’s father, Nigel (Caine), however, thinks she’s nuts for giving up a life where magic can make everything come easy for you. Kidman plays it especially dumb, as opposed to the wily witch originally portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery, and it’s only when Ferrell turns up that things liven up a little.
The set-up that brings them together is a bit half-baked – he bumps into her at a bookshop, loves the way she wrinkles her nose and promptly casts her as Samantha. Hey presto, Isabel is suddenly and inexplicably in love! But will their relationship hold up when Jack finds out the truth about her?
The magic has gone out of this big-screen version; it seems as though someone has put the hex on writer-director Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally). The show-within-the-movie idea is not a bad one, affording, as it does, opportunities to send up modern Hollywood manners and allowing the film to seem fashionably self-mocking. But, two-thirds in, the jokes dry up, secondary characters are just abandoned and the tone becomes muddled.
The biggest thing Ephron did right was deciding not to go the obvious route and just take the old TV show, give it a modern setting, add some potty humour and dated cultural references.
Michael Caine, Kristin Chenoweth and Shirley MacLaine create some laughs as Kidman’s interfering father, hyperactively perky next-door neighbour and secretly witchy diva, Endora, Samantha’s interfering mother. These supporting players are given too little to do, but the film would hardly work even at just over 90 minutes, so anything unessential had to be scrapped. However, this doesn’t provide an excuse for making the magnificent pairing of Caine and MacLaine, only to ditch them so soon.
What keeps Bewitched out of the summer slush pile is its sense of light-hearted fun. Ferrell tones it down a couple of notches from his usual nuclear powered clowning, doing a slight variation on his stock vulnerably childish egomaniac routine, by playing a vulnerably childish egomaniac movie star.
This is a comedy that gets away with more than it deserves. It changes mood and direction in every other scene, the plot is sloppy and structurally unsound, and it barely develops any backstory for Isabel’s fish-out-of-water status. We’re given practically no information about her previous life, and so any culture shock resulting from her landing in LA and trying to act like a normal person has very little impact.
The whole thing is very tongue in cheek and it winds up kind of a Truman Show, with the lines between fantasy and reality blurred. It doesn’t have any real depth at all. Despite all this, it’s definitely a film to watch if you need to get out of the summer heat.