Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell in Bewitched (2005)


(director/writer: Nora Ephron; screenwriter: Delia Ephron; cinematographer:John Lindley; editor: by Tia Nolan; music by George Fenton; cast: Nicole Kidman (Isabel Bigelow/Samantha), Will Ferrell (Jack Wyatt), Shirley MacLaine (Iris Smythson), Michael Caine (Nigel Bigelow), Jason Schwartzman (Richie), Kristin Chenoweth (Maria Kelly), Heather Burns (Nina), Stephen Colbert (Stu Robison), David Alan Grier (Jim Fields), Steve Carell (Uncle Arthur); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Nora Ephron/Douglas Wick/Lucy Fisher/Penny Marshall; Columbia Pictures; 2005)

“The remake of a TV show should have come with canned laughter because after awhile it was hard to tell that this was supposed to be a comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The question I ask myself is what possessed me to see a film based on the popular 1960s TV sitcom about a witch, who was charmingly portrayed as the sweet all-American next door girl by Elizabeth Montgomery (a pop culture television landmark program I never watched but was certainly aware of). The answer is that I wanted to see if Nicole Kidman, who in the updated version that makes the character she plays into a real witch performing as a television witch, was that good of an actress that she could carry what I thought would be a disastrous recycled idea for a film by her lonesome self (though veterans Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine are on board as supporting actors, they are given inconsequential parts and their capable presence alone added little). Well, in any case, Kidman’s very good in Nora Ephron’s Bewitched, cowritten with her sister Delia, but despite the brilliant casting decision the film is still a rotten tomato that blends special effects driven witchery, breezy bitchery and tepid sarcasm at the entertainment industry together in an uneven tasting stew. The film’s first third went for the comedy alone and was sweetly engaging and had a pleasing airy lighthearted quality; the middle part was bearable even though it started to lose control of its broomstick handle in its clumsy attempt to give it a chick flick flavor and an insider’s view of how to put together a TV program– something it was regrettably clueless about; but the last third of the film was excruciating, as a tedious love story develops between the obnoxious egomaniacal Will Ferrell and the increasingly growing too cutesy Kidman. Overall the comedy wasn’t funny enough to cover up its glaring faults and cold spells; the remake of a TV show should have come with canned laughter because after awhile it was hard to tell that this was supposed to be a comedy.

Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) no longer wants to be witch as she yearns for a normal life in suburbia. She pulls what she says will be her last nose twitching jobs as a witch to magically land a rent-free luxury Beverly Hills house and gleefully goes supermarket shopping for some Paul Newman’s popcorn, only to pull one more witch trick when she has to pay up at the checkout counter. Isabel is charmed by living a normal middle-class life surrounded with all kinds of electrical gadgets and befriends ditsy wide-eyed bachelorette next door neighbor Maria Kelly (Kristin Chenoweth), argues with her womanizing warlock father Nigel (Michael Caine) that she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t need his advice that she should never give up being a witch, and while buying a self-help book in the local bookstore attracts the attention of movie superstar Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) when she twitches her nose so much like Ms. Montgomery and is offered the part of Samantha–a witch on the retooled TV sitcom Bewitched which Jack has just signed onto at the urgings of his aggressive agent Ritchie (Jason Schwartzman). The smarmy agent convinces Jack to make this TV show his comeback after a bitter marriage separation and a last film that bombed. Jack chooses the unknown Isabel because she will not know any better and allow Jack’s second banana TV character of Darrin to be the star. At first things work out fine when Isabel improvises her lines and seems happy to let Jack take charge of the show because she has a crush on him, but when she discovers that Jack takes her for a fool and is cutting her lines to make himself the star–she resorts to being a real witch again and puts a hex on him. In a sidelight to the main story, hammy actress Iris Smythson (Shirley MacLaine) is also a real-life witch who plays the witch part of Endora and tries to get a romance started with Nigel–doing her witch thing on the young chicks he’s eyeballing. Nothing much happens between the two that is memorable, as the film disappears in its own vapid atmosphere from a resurgence of meaningless 1960s memorabilia and nostalgia. In the end its silliness becomes overblown (too much witchery) and Will Ferrell comes off the worse for wear, as he’s miscast in a role where he’s asked to be Tom Hanks when he can only be his usual boorish hyper self.

The film never hit the right spot when it turned all its attention on being a romance. Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) couldn’t bring any magic to a film that cried out for magic and not merely a song over the closing credits such as “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Though some spots were fluffy fun the film never materialized as anything more than trying to capitalize on a gimmicky idea that soon became irksome.