Dir: Nora Ephron. US.2005. 98 mins.
Sony's eagerly awaited movie of the beloved 60s TV series Bewitched has to be one of the most featherweight summerblockbuster prospects in recent memory. Although it's stuffed with A-listtalent from stars Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell down, co-writer and directorNora Ephron has delivered a romantic comedy so overloaded with self-consciouscleverness and high concepts that she seems to have forgotten about the heart.
It's certainly hard toimagine adult audiences who still treasure the TV series falling for Ephron'soh-so-smug conceit in which a real witch is cast as Samantha in a new TV seriesof Bewitched. The amusingsuburban shenanigans of the original are therefore abandoned in favour of aHollywood film set and all the bad behaviour, extreme LA wealth and insiderjokes that entails.
Sony has come up with acrack marketing campaign for the film. Its multiple poster images of Kidmansitting on a broomstick with Ferrell either sitting beside her, clambering tostay on or plain hanging off are hilarious, and awareness in the US for theJune 24 opening is high. The first weekend figures should be strong based onthe stars and want-to-see, but reviews will be average to poor, andword-of-mouth won't keep box office levels up for long especially as War Of theWorlds arrives in the marketplace five days later.
International numbers willmirror that same strong start, especially since Bewitched has held up inre-runs on TV just about everywhere for decades. Kidman's popularity inoverseas markets will also help propel the film to decent numbers, but again itwill soon wane in the face of more substantive Hollywood juggernauts.
Ephron's notion was to keepthe TV series on a pedestal and not tamper with Elizabeth Montgomery's indelibleSamantha, who is referenced and seen several times during the film. InsteadKidman plays a witch called Isabel Bigelow, a sweet, naive girl trying to leada normal life. She moves into a house in the San Fernando Valley and vows never touse her supernatural powers again. Her father, a warlock lothario called NigelBigelow (effortlessly played by Caine) disapproves of the notion and warnsIsabel that her plans to fall in love and settle down with an average, meremortal are doomed from the start.
Cut to Jack Wyatt (Ferrell),a fading film star taking a meeting to star as Darrin in a planned TV revamp ofBewitched, accompanied by his odious manager played by Jason Schwartzman. Adeal is made, but over the next few weeks, the team struggle in their effortsto find a suitable Samantha.
One day, while browsing in abook store (LA's famous Book Soup, for industry insiders), he spots Isabeltwitching her nose like Samantha and approaches her about starring in the show.Unaware of the lines between reality and fiction, she goes along with him,thinking that he is trying to romance her.
But when shooting begins,Isabel realizes that Jack is not only uninterested in her romantically buttrying to minimize Samantha's role and turn the show into the Darrin show. Sheplots her revenge, using some magic along the way, but also falling in love.
Surprisingly for Ephron,whose specialty in films like Sleepless In Seattle and You've Got Mail has been to create engaging love-starved characters,the characters here are written as cartoons. Isabel's zeal for romance isn'tspecific to Jack. He just happens to be the first man that comes along. AndJack himself has questionable appeal for audiences as an egomaniac actor whosearc to redemption is never fully realized.
Kidman is appealing if notentirely at home playing it straight in the comic lead, Ferrell meanwhile is onwild, improvisational form as Jack, and the two styles don't necessarily gelwell together. Caine and Shirley MacLaine, who plays a diva actress cast asEndora, are under-used and their own romantic subplot is given short shrift inthe muddled denouement.
Prod cos: Red Wagon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures
Exec prods: James W Skotchdopole, Steven H Berman & BobbyCohen.
Prods: Douglas Wick, LucyFisher, Penny Marshall & Nora Ephron.
Scr: Nora Ephron & DeliaEphron.
DoP: John Lindley.
Prod des: Neil Spisak.
Ed: Tia Nolan.
Mus: George Fenton.
Main cast: Nicole Kidman, WillFerrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth,Heather Burns, David Alan Grier.