2005-06-30 / Arts & Entertainment

Movie’s Not As

Bewitching As Original TV Series
By Christie Lemire AP Movie Writer

Bewitching
As Original TV Series

By Christie Lemire
AP Movie Writer

(Left to right)Nicole Kidman, Shirley MacLaine and Will Ferrell star in the big screen version of the popular 1960s television sitcom, “Bewitched.”       (Left to right)Nicole Kidman, Shirley MacLaine and Will Ferrell star in the big screen version of the popular 1960s television sitcom, “Bewitched.”

No magic spells could make “Bewitched” enjoyable, after all the work put into it by a coven of rotating cooks stirring the long-simmering cauldron.

The brew that sisters Nora and Delia Ephron ultimately created reeks of antic desperation, though it features a solid cast in Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine.

In adapting the ‘60s sitcom for the big screen, the Ephrons (Delia as director/writer and Nora as writer) have come up with a conceit that’s admirable in its attempt at innovation: An updated version of “Be-witched’’ is in the works, with a real-life witch playing Samantha. You have to give them credit for at least trying something different, and not just another camp-ed-up transfer from TV to film, like “The Brady Bunch Movie” or “Starsky & Hutch” — that is, until Steve Carell from “The Daily Show” shows up, doing his flamboyant impersonation of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur.

In execution, though, the premise feels too cutesy _ as does the performance from Kidman, who’s more than capable of comedy (see the darkly funny “To Die For’’) but is too substantial an actress for the dippy-fluffy routine she’s got working here. It doesn’t help that she and Ferrell, as the actor playing Darrin, have zero chemistry with each other, despite their individual appeal.

Kidman plays Isabel Bigelow, a blissfully naive (and good) witch who wants to give up her supernatural powers for mundane, suburban, mortal life.

Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, a washed-up actor looking for a comeback by starring as Darrin on the new “Bewitched.’’ (He actually does his best work in the film at the beginning, when he’s unshaven, insecure and withdrawn, and nervously meeting with the TV show’s execs for the first time. It’s a darker side of the comedian that we’ve never seen, and it suggests an untapped complexity that’s enticing. But it doesn’t last long.)

Jack spots Isabel in a bookstore and notices her twitching her upturned, Elizabeth Montgomeryesque nose. He’s instantly drawn to Isabel as the ideal person to play his TV wife; of course, he has no clue she really is a witch, and figures she’s just an innocent girl he can upstage. Meanwhile, she’s instantly, inexplicably smitten with Jack, despite his obvious smar-miness.

Isabel’s father, Nigel (Caine, providing the film with a modicum of grace), is appalled by the idea of his daughter’s involvement with the sitcom. “That’s an insult to our way of life!’’ he scolds. But he softens when he realizes who’s playing Samantha’s mother, Endora: his favorite actress, Iris Smythson (the mystical MacLaine, ideally cast and appropriately over-the-top in an array of brightly colored feather boas).

Meanwhile, Isabel struggles with her urges to use her powers to manipulate everyone and everything around her, including Jack. And why not give in? It’s too easy to whip up a house and a car or hook up the VCR with a couple of quick facial gestures. But this dynamic gets repetitive quickly, and the jaunty music that usually accompanies it grows seriously cloying.

The witchcraft also provides myriad opportunities for increasingly broad physical comedy, leading up to a montage of Isabel and Jack frolicking to the “Bewitched’’ theme and the overused pina colada song.

Presumably this is a trick to eat up time, as is a scene in which Jack goes on “Inside the Actors Studio” and insists to James Lipton, “This isn’t the old ‘Bewitched.’”

Maybe not. But it sure makes the old “Bewitched” look like pure magic all of a sudden.

“Bewitched,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity. Running time: 95 minutes.

©2005 Columbia Pictures

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