THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


One could easily be cynical about Bewitched, especially since we’ve already endured dozens of movie adaptations of old TV shows, and more than a few of them have been mind-numbingly awful. This one at least brings together an A-list group of actors and filmmakers. It also puts a post-modern twist on the source material. Bewitched is neither the best nor the worst TV adaptation, although it’s definitely one of the most unusual.

Will Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, a movie actor whose big screen career has hit the skids thanks to a few recent bombs. Desperate for work, he signs on to do a sitcom – specifically, an updated version of “Bewitched.” Because Jack knows that a female was always the center of the show, he demands an unknown be cast alongside him. That way, he can move center stage and soothe his damaged ego.

While book shopping, he sees Isabel Bigalow (Nicole Kidman). She’s pretty and, more crucially, she has this cute way of twitching her nose that makes her perfect for the character of Samantha (a witch who twitched her nose when casting spells.) Isabel is flattered by Jack’s job offer and agrees to play the part. However, she carries a secret: in addition to playing a witch on TV, Isabel is a witch in real life. Much to the dismay of her warlock father Nigel (Michael Caine), she is trying to leave the witch world behind. Isabel wants desperately to be “normal” – to have a job and, hopefully, a husband. In Jack Wyatt and his sitcom, she sees a chance for both.

Once Isabel gets wind of Jack’s attempt to sideline her, she reverts to her magic powers in order to exact a little revenge. (This leads to a very funny scene in which she causes Jack to recite a simple line of dialogue in a variety of inappropriate styles.) Then she casts a spell to make him super supportive of her. When Jack proves to be a little too overbearing in his praise, Isabel un-casts the spell and merely tells him off instead. Romantic sparks suddenly begin to fly between them, leading Isabel to wonder whether Jack will be able to deal with the fact that she’s a witch.

You know how some movies are love-it-or-hate-it deals? Well Bewitched is not one of those. Instead, this is a film that few will really love and few will really hate. Most people are likely to experience varying degrees of kind-a liking it or kind-a not. I fall into the kind-a liked it category. For starters, I enjoyed the performances that arose from the offbeat casting. Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman bring something out in each other. He brings out a goofy side of her, while she brings out a heretofore unseen leading man quality in him. It’s fun to see them play fundamentally against type. Fortunately, both are talented enough to pull it off.

Also in the film is Shirley MacLaine as Endora (or, more accurately, an actress playing Endora). Her character is something of a legend who likes to make grand entrances. This is the kind of part the actress can really run with. I once saw MacLaine in person and it’s not far from her own cheery personality. Michael Caine has fun as well. In one scene, Isabel goes grocery shopping while her father magically appears on food containers to dispense advice. The sight of Michael Caine as the Jolly Green Giant is a real sight to see, let me tell you.

In the last fifteen minutes - when I thought the movie was starting to wear out its welcome – Steve Carell appeared to do an extended cameo as Uncle Arthur, the Paul Lynde character from the original show. He brings enough wacky energy to the film to carry it to the finish line. Carell is quickly becoming a comedy MVP, having also delivered scene-stealing performances in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman.

Plotwise, Bewitched pays homage to the TV show, yet also positions itself as a satire of Hollywood power plays and egotistic celebrities. Although this is far from the most cutting show biz satire (HBO’s “Entourage” currently holds that honor), it does have its effective moments. It’s common knowledge that good roles for women are less common than good roles for men. Jack’s manipulation of the “Bewitched” set – and Isabel’s eventual fight for equality – is an amusing take on behind the scenes sexism. I wish the movie had gone even more in-depth with the premise, or at least focused it a little more. At times it feels like Bewitched is all over the place. Still, the screenplay finds a fresh approach to spoof Hollywood backstabbing.

I used to watch “Bewitched” reruns as a child but have no particular affinity for it anymore, so I didn’t really care when the movie was or was not faithful. I think what I responded to was the fact that it tried to do something different. Director/co-writer Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) is apparently also tired of by-the-book TV adaptations. She tried to come up with a fresh approach. Bewitched has more giggles than belly laughs, but it’s not the same-old same old, and the massive appeal of Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman is undeniable.

( out of four)

Bewitched is rated PG-13 for some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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