Post-modern irony can be a
curse. Case in point – the new movie version of sixties TV classic Bewitched. You remember the story; a beautiful young witch
(Elizabeth Montgomery) falls in love with a mortal (Dick York/Sargent) and
decides to try a life of quiet domesticity.
It is a smart, compact
storyline that stands on its own. There is enough meat on the bones
that this could be a very good movie.
This isn't that movie,
though. For some reason, they had to gimmick it up. They had to
give it an exceedingly clever and precious makeover to show that they are
not looking at this TV icon through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.
Instead, they are taking it on with a raised eyebrow and tongue planted
firmly in cheek.
So now, we have an extremely
convoluted storyline on top of the simple one. The film tries to smash
together two levels of reality in which only one was needed and one works.
They burden the film with a Hollywood satire that falls stunningly flat.
The new, ironically-detached
Bewitched is the story of Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a self-absorbed
has-been movie star whose career has plummeted so far that the only job he
can get is starring as Darrin in a TV series remake of the 60s sitcom.
As portrayed by Ferrell and the screenplay, Wyatt seems nearly schizophrenic
– one moment he is a nice, genuinely feeling guy and the next he is
monstrously egotistical. In fact, Wyatt changes his personality and
his thrust so often in this film that Ferrell must have gotten whiplash
Wyatt does recognize the
desperate state of his career though, so he insists upon casting a complete
unknown as his magical wife Samantha. That way, he figures, he will
not be overshadowed by his co-star. Unfortunately, the casting
people seem to have come upon a stifling roadblock in finding a woman who
can do the nose-twitch thing that Elizabeth Montgomery did in the series.
This leads to not one, but two, montage scenes of actresses who are unable
to twitch their nose on cue. (It's hard to believe that it is quite as
difficult a skill as the movie suggests.)
Jack finally finds his
Samantha when he sees Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) sneezing at a book
store. She's pretty and she can move her nose like a rabbit – who
cares if she can act? However – coincidental complication time here
– unbeknownst to Jack, Isabel really is a witch. A witch, who,
ironically, has decided to give up her magic to try a life of quiet
domesticity. And, irony squared, one who is interested in settling
down with a mortal and is considering Jack.
All of this complicated new
concept struggles to fit into what is essentially a puffy romantic comedy.
And writer/director Nora
Ephron (Sleepless In Seattle) keeps piling it on. The hammy old actress hired to play
Samantha's mother Endora (Shirley MacLaine) may just be a witch, too. The
movie can't even keep track of its own high concept – in late scenes when
Steve Carell (The Office) pops up – out-flamboyanting even the late,
great Paul Lynde in his character of Uncle Arthur, we are told that Arthur
is Isabel's uncle. But in the series he was Samantha's uncle. We
have been led to believe that Isabel and Samantha are totally separate
characters; in fact Samantha is essentially only a figment of some old
sitcom writer's imagination. So how do they have the same uncle?
All of this wouldn't matter
so much, I suppose, if it was all funny.
It's not a good sign that
the one laugh-out-loud moment in this film comes in the opening minutes.
(I won't spoil the joke, let's just say it is Michael Caine's reaction to
his daughter's contention that warlocks are shallow and demand instant
gratification). The rest of Bewitched is, sadly, all downhill
A big part of the problem is
generated by the leads. Ferrell and Kidman appear to be acting in two
different films. Kidman actually gives Isabel an interesting
characterization. Unlike Samantha's sexy suburban housewife with a
touch of a bad streak, Isabel is a surprisingly naive and trusting
character. We may have cared about her more if she wasn't stuck on
such an unlikable slob as Jack.
The Hollywood-types, as
portrayed by Jason Schwartzman as Jack's sharky agent and Broadway pixie
Kristin Chenoweth as Isabel's impossibly over-the-top divorcee best friend
are tired and pointless stereotypes.
Other than Kidman, the only
person who comes out of this film unscathed is Michael Caine as Isabel's
warlock father. With this role and Caine's turn in Batman Begins,
this is the second time in two weeks that he has been the brightest spot in a
horribly overwrought summer blockbuster based on a past classic.
All rights reserved. Posted: June 27, 2005.