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Nonsensical twitches make the magic disappear
Seattle Times movie critic
All right, try to get that "Bewitched" theme song out of your head. Just try. I dare you. It's been plaguing me all week.
Actually, as theme songs go, "Bewitched" isn't bad; it's bouncy and sparkly and pleasantly nostalgic. Unfortunately, "Bewitched" the movie is only sporadically bouncy and sparkly. More often, it's limp and puzzling. Why did Nora Ephron want to make this movie? Why did Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell want to star in it? Couldn't they all have just stayed home and watched Nick at Nite instead, and used the time they saved to come up with a more original idea?
Give Ephron and co-writer Delia Ephron credit, at least, for tweaking the "Bewitched" concept a bit. Here, Kidman plays Isabel Bigelow, a pretty witch determined to live a regular life. ("I want to have days when my hair is affected by the weather," she tells her father, with a cute Meg Ryan-ish lisp.)
Meanwhile, actor Jack Wyatt (Ferrell), whose career is enduring a bit of a slump, signs on for a television series about a mortal man named Darrin married to a witch named Samantha. (Go ahead, hum the theme song here.) Looking for an unknown co-star — so as to keep the focus on himself — he finds Isabel at a coffee shop, is charmed by her nose, and off we go, with Endora, Aunt Clara and even Uncle Arthur trailing behind.
This isn't a terrible idea, particularly when you factor in Michael Caine as Isabel's father and Shirley MacLaine as Endora (or, rather, as actress Iris Smythson, playing Endora). And there's some zippy supporting work by Kristin Chenoweth as Isabel's chatty neighbor. Chenoweth — a Broadway star making her film debut — is very short and very curvy, with a high-pitched, rat-a-tat voice that never seems to stop for breath. She makes a wonderful visual contrast to the impossibly tall, thin Kidman; they're like a gorgeous female version of Laurel and Hardy. Jason Schwartzman is very funny as Ferrell's ever-encouraging agent, urging his client to be manly and decisive ("Be the sheriff of Ballsville!").
But when you look away from this movie's entertaining sideshow, you find a problem at its center. It's not Kidman and Ferrell (though their chemistry is tepid at best) — it's more that the movie doesn't know what to do with them. Ephron seems unsure as to whether she's filming a zany retro comedy or a conventional romance, and the film zips back and forth between genres, never really settling.
Jack is nasty to Isabel, and then he isn't anymore, because he's fallen in love with her and is suddenly jumping around like Tom Cruise on "Oprah." Why? We don't know; nor do we know why she would fall in love with him after he's been such a jerk. Nonetheless, Ephron has the two of them performing a swoony, overlong dance together (to the strains of — say it with me — the "Bewitched" theme song), like they're in a '50s musical.
By the end, some fairly desperate plot devices are inserted (such as the completely random arrival of Jack's ex-wife), and the movie has become nonsensical, grounded only by Caine's all-too-rare appearances as the only voice of reason in the movie. (Between this and his wise butler on "Batman Begins," don't you love that Caine seems to be becoming the go-to guy for summer movies?)
Yes, "Bewitched" is fantasy, but it's so light that it floats away, leaving nothing behind but a cutely twitching nose ... and, yes, a theme song.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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