Bewitched (2005)

Not a straight redo of the sit-com, like the film of My Favorite Martian, or even a slightly po-mo take like The Brady Bunch, but a full-on exercise in deconstruction that's never quite as clever as it ought to be. Will Ferrell continues to be the most promising comic leading man of his generation and Nicole Kidman is surprisingly game in what used to be the Meg Ryan role (though she's also looking a tad mature to get away with being such a bubblehead), but a strong supporting cast either pop up too much (Michael Caine) or seem to have had their roles pared to the bone (Shirley MacLaine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Heather Burns, Michael Badalucco).

It starts with an update of the original premise as Isabel (Kidman), who works witchery by wiggling an ear rather than a nose, decides to forsake magic and live a normal life, despite her father's cautionary warnings and her habit of using hexes every time she has a slight setback. Then we cut to Jack Wyatt (Ferrell), a neurotic washed-up movie star reduced to starring in a TV redo of Bewitched who sets out to find an unknown to play Samantha so his bland Darrin won't be upstaged (he remembers, too late, what happened to Darrin in the 1960s – the original actor was replaced and nobody cared). Jack notices Isabel's nose-twitch in a bookshop and gets her the job, which becomes confusing as she learns all about Bewitched, which she was never allowed to watch, and discovers how close the parallel is with her own life. Characters from the old show (Carole Shelley as Aunt Clara, Steve Carell doing a fair Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur) pop up without it being really established if they are real coincidences or conjured-up phantasms.

Writer-director Nora Ephron really should have got a fantasy writer to go over the script and work in some consistency, since this confusion gets nigglingly annoying without ever becoming interesting. The broad in-joke Hollywood satire is funny – as when MacLaine blithely refuses to understand a director's instruction that she not acknowledge audience applause when she appears and the skits on Jack Wyatt's films (especially a Vietnam epic) are clever – and Ferrell and Kidman do fairly well by the smoochy comedy. But it's misshapen, with the feel of something that'll have an entirely different version on the eventual DVD.

First published in this form here.

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