By Shawn McKenzie 06/26/2005
Most people (or should I say most critics) hate adaptations of TV shows, but for me, I don’t mind them. Some of my favorite comedies are the Addams Family movies and the Brady Bunch movies. I was excited to see Bewitched, since I liked the TV show when I was a kid. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a semi-disappointment.
Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) is a real witch who wants to live like a mortal…except that she has a problem of breaking the habit of witchcraft. Her ladies’ man father, Nigel (Michael Caine), doesn’t think that she can do it, and he wonders why she would want to try anyway, since she can do anything with a tug of her ear (instead of the famous nose wriggle.) She has led a sheltered life, and she wants to experience everything that mortals experience…like owning a house in California’s San Fernando Valley, setting up a VCR, paying for things with money, and falling in love without a love spell. Meanwhile, a movie star named Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) is coming off a string of flops. His last movie, Last Year in Katmandu, was a financial bomb, and he has been having problems getting more work. To top things off, his soon-to-be-ex-wife Sheila (Katie Finneran) wants a divorce. His manager, Ritchie (Jason Schwartzman), gets him a TV show deal though, which is to play Darrin Stephens in a new version of the popular 1964-1972 ABC TV sitcom, “Bewitched.” He’s not too thrilled with going into TV after being a movie star, and the character of Darrin was so bland anyway that no one remembers the fact that the show went from Dick York to Dick Sargent without viewers batting an eye. Before he agrees to do the part, Jack insists that the producers, Larry (Jim Turner) and Stu (Stephen Colbert), will need to cast an unknown actress to play the part of Samantha Stephens. That way he will get most of the screen time and the bigger credit. They agree, and the search for a new Samantha commences. Auditions for the new Samantha are pathetic, with no one able to perfect Samantha’s nose wriggle. One day, at a bookstore, Jack sees a woman wriggling her nose through the bookshelf. He goes around the corner and sees the blonde, attractive Isabel, who can wriggle her nose and fits the part physically. He asks her if she would like to audition for the role, which she agrees to only after some hesitation (and she thinks that Jack is attractive because he looks like he is a mess and might really need her…something that is appealing to her for some reason.) She does a test read, and she impresses the producers, the director Jim Fields (David Alan Grier), and the props man Joey (Michael Badalucco), who all felt like she is very dialed-in with the witchcraft shtick. She is offered the part, but quickly realizes that she doesn’t have much to do on the show. She works on the show now with Jack and actress Iris Smythson (Shirley MacLaine), a.k.a. Samantha’s mother, Endora, who loves to pose for the camera. The test scores come back and they are good for Isabel and bad for Jack, but she overhears Jack talking to Ritchie about his intentions to hog up more screen time, and it ticks her off. She quits, but Jack talks her out of it. Back at home, she is still upset over Jack’s betrayal, yet she is still attracted to him. She tells this fact to her new best friend and neighbor, career counselor Maria Kelly (Kristin Chenoweth), and with the assistant that the show had assigned to her, Nina (Heather Burns.) When flighty witch Aunt Clara (Carole Shelley) drops by (the name is supposed to be a coincidence from the character on the old show) and helps Isabel conjure up a love spell on Jack, she sees that it works too well and that Clara can’t undue it. She decides to rewind time (a la Superman in the first Superman movie, except time looks a video tape being rewound on a VCR) and go back to before she and Jack saw their test scores. She eventually does fall in love for real with Jack, and he does likewise, so she decides to tell him that she is a witch. He doesn’t believe her at first, but when she rides off into the sky on her broomstick, he freaks out and avoids her. It takes some advice from warlock Uncle Arthur (Steve Carell) to show Jack the error of his ways, but he might be too late, because she is on her way to the witch world, having been rejected by Jack.
The reason why this movie disappointed me was that I would have preferred a regular adaptation of the show instead of a “making of the TV show” style. I’m sure other critics found it creative to have original characters making the show instead of them being characters from the show, but I didn’t like it. Throw in the confusion that Clara and Arthur, along with Gladys (Amy Sedaris) and Abner (Richard Kind) Kravitz, show up as the original characters and not actors playing the characters, it becomes a jumbled mess.
As for the performances…they were mixed. I’m only going to highlight the ones that stood out, because the rest weren’t really worth noting. If Isabel is supposed to be Samantha reincarnated, Kidman played the role very ditzy. It was kind of annoying at parts during the “love” scenes. I always felt like Elizabeth Montgomery played Samantha very confidently, and despite being in a subservient role, she had all the power. Ferrell did pretty well as an over-the-hill egocentric actor, and he was appropriately stale as Darrin on the filming of the show. Kidman and Ferrell together had no chemistry though. He can do comedy obviously, but he isn’t quite up to par as a romantic lead. Caine was funny as Isabel’s father Nigel, who might as well be Samantha’s father Maurice, played by Maurice Evans originally. Nigel did the neatest tricks, like walk out of a painting, or plaster his face on products in the supermarket, such as the Jolly Green Giant or the Gorton’s Fisherman. MacLaine would have been the ideal choice to be Endora…if only her character was the actual character and not just an actress playing the part. Carell stole the show late into the movie playing the perfect imitation of Paul Lynde’s Uncle Arthur. I can’t wait until he gets a lead role someday (he’s doing great now as the lead in NBC’s “The Office.”)
As let down as I was with Bewitched, I did find it mildly funny. This was Nora Ephron’s first movie in five years (the last one being the forgettable John Travolta/Lisa Kudrow crime comedy Lucky Numbers), and it had the potential to be a hilarious movie, given its source material. Maybe you might find it funny as a hardcore fan of the original show, but for everyone else, I’d recommend renting it on DVD when it comes out. It just wasn’t very bewitching for me.
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