"Bewitched" is a painfully embarrassing remake of the classic TV sitcom that ran on ABC from 1964-1972. The series, about a "mixed" marriage between a high-flying sorceress and an earthbound mortal, boasts some of the most familiar and iconic images in television history.
Writer Nora Ephron has over-thought the concept to such an extent that she has managed to strip away most of the elements that made the series work in the first place. The movie isn't technically a "remake" of "Bewitched," since the witch played by Nicole Kidman isn't the Samantha Stevens of the series but rather a single woman named Isabel Bigelow who gets to PLAY Samantha Stephens on TV. It's all very chic and complicated, you see, but the story goes something like this: tired of the life of instant gratification that witchcraft so easily affords her, Isabel has decided to strike out on her own as a totally self-reliant mortal, moving into a tract home in the San Fernando Valley and vowing to get through the remainder of her days without the benefit of witchcraft. One afternoon while at a bookstore, she is spotted by one Jack Wyatt, a pompous, self-centered movie actor whose career and personal life have both been in the tank of late and who is hoping to at least jumpstart the former by taking on the role of Darrin Stevens in a new version of the old series. One glimpse of Isabel's nose-twitching ability convinces him that this non-actress would be perfect for the part, so we wind up, in true Pirandellian fashion, with a fictional TV witch being played by an honest-to-God real life witch.
The overriding problem with this film is that it completely undercuts the very elements that made Samantha such a likable and compelling figure for millions of spellbound American viewers. Even though the character played by Elizabeth Montgomery was basically just a "typical American housewife," content with staying at home and submitting to her husband, she was also intelligent, shrewd, occasionally subversive and always wise to the ways of human nature. Isabel is none of these things. In fact, she has been conceived as little more than a dingbat airhead, dippy, goofy and hopelessly backward in her dealings with other people, making us wonder what it was she'd been doing for all the millennia prior to the time of this story. I doubt Ephron intended for the story to be ironic in this way, but the old Samantha Stevens from 40 years ago came across as a more modern woman then than Isabel does today. This is clearly Kidman's worst, most annoying performance ever, which only goes to show that even an Academy Award winning actress can't make a silk purse out of every sow's ear that comes her way. The same goes for Will Ferrell in the role of the pseudo-Darrin whose over-the-top turn here is the movie equivalent of fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard for a grueling one hour and forty minutes (the combined running time of almost four episodes in the original series). Michael Caine as Isabel's warlock father and Shirley MacLaine as a real life witch who happens to be playing Endora are both old pros enough to turn in decent performances, but even they will undoubtedly want to expunge this turkey from their otherwise illustrious resumes as soon as possible.
In the TV "Bewitched," there was a certain subtle tension built into the premise that carried through from episode to episode. The Stevenses had to find ways to keep the outside world from finding the truth out about Samantha's real identity, not always an easy task what with Endora or Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur popping in unannounced at all hours of the day or night casting a spell on some poor, unsuspecting mortal or wreaking havoc on the young couple's marital harmony and domestic bliss. This tension is completely lost in the film, as is the conflict between Darrin and Endora that always threatened to end with Darrin being turned into a chimpanzee or a bullfrog and Samantha running back to the effortless ease and comfort of her former existence. There really is no logical or coherent conflict to speak of in this film, just a lot of people running around acting silly to no discernible point or purpose. In fact, the only quality scene in the movie is one in which Isabel and Jack are cavorting around an empty set while Frank Sinatra's version of the title song plays in the background. It turns out to be the one - pardon the pun - "magical" moment in the film.
For, astonishingly, even the magic in this film is humdrum compared with the stuff that was done on the TV show. Someone should inform the makers of this film that special effects have actually advanced some in the last half century. One would certainly never know it by watching this film.
The one positive thing to be said about this movie is that it doesn't come saddled with one of those insipid, mind-numbing laugh tracks that are regularly slapped onto TV sitcoms - but then again even a laugh track wouldn't find much to chortle over here.
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