Hollywood Magic

by Ed Symkus

The idea behind what most people are supposing is a movie version of the popular mid-'60s-to-early-'70s sitcom Bewitched is a good one. The story here is about some folks in Hollywood getting the idea that a contemporary remake of the show -- in other words, a whole new series -- is just what the world needs.

Once-popular actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) is certainly a believer. Not because he believes in it, but because his wife just left him and took the house. Besides, after a string of bombs, he has no movie offers. But after some prodding by his agent (Jason Schwartzman), he not only has the part of Darren in the new Bewitched, he's going to be the star, with his name featured high above the credit for whomever will be playing Samantha.

With the script going for a right time-right place scenario, Jack happens upon Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) unconsciously wrinkling her nose while doing some shopping. That's it! That's the audition. And before this woman who has no idea what acting is (and who has never seen an old TV show called Bewitched) knows what's happening, she's hearing a really great pickup line -- "So, do you want to be rich and famous?" -- and being whisked off to a TV studio for a reading.

What she doesn't know is that she's not going to have any lines -- after all, Darren is now the star of the show. What neither Jack nor anyone else involved in the show knows is that there's been a misunderstanding here. Isabel, you see, really is -- how to put this? -- overqualified for the part.

When she takes the part, her father Nigel (Michael Caine, both stately and funny), objects to the remake. So the story turns out to be about the father-daughter relationship, about a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood, and -- who would have guessed? -- about a romance befitting the title.

It's a fluffball of a movie, with a light and happy performance from Kidman -- who's got the Elizabeth Montgomery nose twitch down pat. But it's an odd decision to make her character a woman who falls somewhere between being merely gullible and just plain stupid. Ferrell has a lot more depth and range with Jack, who goes from low-key and defeated to a complete jerk (when he again tastes some of that Hollywood power). Ferrell plays the part both straight and funny, and director Nora Ephron knew he was up to the task; she wisely lets him do his thing.

The film achieves riotous heights when Shirley MacLaine, as the veteran actress Iris Smythson who's going to play Endora (a role that Agnes Moorehead nailed on the TV show) goes about totally overplaying her part, reaching for and getting most of the laughs via her delivery.

The opposite is true of Kristen Chenoweth as Isabel's friend Maria. Chenoweth is not at all a natural performer, and her constant mugging makes her stick out to the point of annoyance.

Fans of the TV show will be happy to know that the film makes room for both a bumbling Aunt Clara (Carole Shelley) and a pushy Uncle Arthur (Steve Carell in an uncanny impersonation of Paul Lynde, who created the role). And like the old show, there are plenty of witch-related funny visual effects.

While the central plot revolves around Isabel keeping secret, all kinds of weird things are going on while the TV show is being made. But the mood shift when Samantha discovers that she's expendable is a mistake, as are the many flotsam bits of plot. Bewitched, furthermore, is a movie that just stops rather than concludes.

All is forgiven, though, because this must be the only major film ever made to include a hip joke about a Cat Stevens CD.