Bewitched fails to cast a spell on me

by Glen Baity

A briefly charming piece of metafiction, Bewitched is one of the most surprising movies of the summer so far. Well, ‘surprising’ in that, while not exactly good, it’s far less terrible than you might think. Save your most pointed barbs for the upcoming (and increasingly awful-looking) Dukes of Hazzard movie; this one’s as harmless as they come.

Isabel (Nicole Kidman) is a witch in search of a little humanity. Her ability to snap her fingers and bend space and time at a whim has stressed her out to the point that she has decided to uproot her cushy life and move to live among the ‘real’ people ‘— in Hollywood (write your own joke and place it here). As chance would have it, Isabel’s new beginning coincides with casting for an updated version of ‘“Bewitched,’” spearheaded by actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell). Mistaking Isabel for a mere mortal, Jack casts her in the series, making way for some quaint misunderstandings masquerading as actual conflict. And that’s the problem: though Isabel’s situation clearly weighs on her with all the gravity of a dieter indulging in a doughnut, it’s a bit of inner turmoil whose seriousness will require some suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. Absent any other dramatic tension, the film begins to drag midway through. Bewitched wears a little thin despite the presence of a great cast (including several ‘“Daily Show’” veterans, Amy Sedaris and a delightful Shirley MacLaine), but the first reel has several genuine laughs. Unfortunately, there’s something about the film-within-a-film structure that throws off the momentum. Director Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) doesn’t seem to know how to navigate it.

There’s also the Will Ferrell problem ‘— his signature schtick is reigned in for the film’s PG rating, and while I’m sure that’s good news to people who dislike Will Ferrell, I doubt they’d purposefully go see one of his movies anyway. Whether you love him or hate him, he’s not really Will Ferrell in this movie, and the material doesn’t allow him to be anything other than a bland presence with sporadic comedic outbursts.

The effectiveness of Bewitched hinges on Nicole Kidman’s performance. For her part, she seems to be having a great time in this role. Viewers are treated to the Harry Potter variety of witchcraft, demonstrated in the usual fashion: instead of using door knobs like a common Muggle, for example, a witch will employ the presumably more convenient method of waving her wand at the door, causing it to swoosh open dramatically. It’s magick in its most ingratiating form ‘— functional, but flashy enough to make you forget that waving a wand and turning a knob require approximately the same amount of movement. Having no real familiarity with the original series, I’ll leave it for longtime ‘“Bewitched’” fans to decide whether or not Kidman does Elizabeth Montgomery justice. Suffice it to say that she’s instantly likeable in this movie, which isn’t a remake per se, but fancies itself a lighthearted comment on remakes (though what that comment is remains a mystery, unless it’s something like ‘“Hollywood sure does churn out those remakes, huh?’”). Bewitched might be a little more innovative than others of its ilk, but it’s about as filling as a bag of cotton candy; likewise, you may find that the appeal wears off more quickly than you anticipated.

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