BEWITCHED directed by Nora Ephron, written by Delia and Nora Ephron, with Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. 102 minutes. A Sony Pictures release. Opens Friday (June 24). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Forget everything you've heard about wasteful, extravagant Hollywood lifestyles. Those execs in la-la land could give the crunchiest Greenpeace warrior a crash course in recycling.
Look at Bewitched, starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, a movie about remaking a TV show that was based on a movie.
In 1958's Bell Book And Candle, Kim Novak enchants Jimmy Stewart out of spite, only to lose her powers when she falls for him. In the 1960s show Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha promises to give up her powers after marrying a mortal. In the current flick, washed-up actor Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) plucks Isabel Bigelow (Kidman) from obscurity to star opposite him in a remake of the show, only to discover she's actually a witch.
With her ice-milk complexion and haughty air, Kidman could do a creditable take on Novak's chilly seductress, and early on the film seems to be going that way: Isabel vows to give up being a witch in order to catch a "non-warlock," much to the disgust of her dad (Michael Caine). It appears from their conversations that, as in Bell Book And Candle, witches can't fall in love.
But once Isabel is cast as Samantha, the film switches gears and the TV series is the template. For all her beauty, Kidman lacks Montgomery's sexy-girl-next-door quality. The woman couldn't be normal if she tried. To compensate, she makes Isabel a bit of a ditz, with a confused look and helium-enhanced voice.
It's an open question whether Kidman can do comedy. She made her first big splash in the satire To Die For, but since then her only real attempt at humour has been last year's abysmal The Stepford Wives. She may not have the essential ingredient for comedy: the willingness to look foolish for the sake of a laugh.
Ferrell has no such problem. I've never been a huge fan, but I'll allow that for about 60 per cent of this movie he's quite charming, as well as spot on in his impression of the self-important star. For the other 40 per cent he's so over the top as to be unwatchable. He and Kidman do have great chemistry when director Nora Ephron just lets them be two giddy kids in love, but those moments are sadly too few.
Ephron is the queen of recycling, of course. I think she lives in a blue box. Sleepless in Seattle stole outright from An Affair To Remember. Here, she has Jack and Isabel recreate the You Were Meant For Me scene from Singin' In The Rain, screen time that could have gone to Shirley MacLaine (as the show's Endora), most of whose scenes must still be on the cutting room floor.
But despite these cavils, I admit the film cast a bit of a spell on me. The scene after Jack and Isabel's first date, when they can't keep their eyes off each other, is a perfect portrait of a new crush. Jason Schwartzman is deadpan brilliant as Jack's high-powered agent. The presence of my TV boyfriend, The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert, playing a writer, didn't hurt either.
There are a few cute moments in the opening sequence when magic and modern technology blend seamlessly: Isabel opens her garage door by remote; when she opens it again, there's a brand-new car inside.
As storytellers from the Brothers Grimm to Walt Disney to J. K. Rowling have shown, tales of magic still have the power to enchant.