Bewitched (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Warning: vicious personal-sounding attacks to follow. I want revenge on those who stole 100 minutes of my life.

The motion picture version of Bewitched is a travesty of monumental proportions that belongs in the "What the hell were they thinking?" category. While I can't claim to remember every TV-to-movie translation in the last 10 years, this has to be among the worst, if not the worst, to undergo the process. With the possible exception of a slumming Michael Caine, there's not a worthwhile thing in this motion picture. I lay the lion's share of the blame at the feet of co-writer/director Nora Ephron, who doesn't have a clue how to make a movie unless it stars Tom Hanks. This movie is enough to convert even the most die-hard Bewitched lover into a fan of I Dream of Jeannie.

When I first heard about the approach being used to adapt Bewitched, I was intrigued. Finally - a movie that wasn't just going to regurgitate the storyline of a popular TV show. Instead, Ephron proposed to use this as a jumping-off point. Her Bewitched would be about the behind-the-scenes goings-on of a current-day television remake of the show, with the actress playing Samantha being a real-life witch. Life imitating art? As a high concept pitch, it sounds good. The execution, however, is inexcusably sloppy. This is entertainment at its worst: a stillborn 100 minutes where Will Ferrell's pixilated genitals get a bigger laugh than any of the dialogue. The potential of the premise is utterly wasted. A straight remake would almost certainly have been more enjoyable. It's hard to imagine it being worse.

Nicole Kidman plays Isabel Bigelow, a naïve witch who wants to try living in the real world without her magical powers. She wants to experience "being thwarted." Her sage father, Nigel (Michael Caine), warns her that it won't be easy. But Isabel is determined, although she cheats a lot. Through a series of improbable coincidences, she ends up starring opposite Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) on a remake of the classic TV series, Bewitched. She's Samantha to his Darren, only this time around, the program focuses on him, not her. They fall in love, he gets her mad, she puts a hex on him, Shirley MacLaine shows up with an eerily accurate recreation of Agnes Moorehead's Endora, and Steve Carell (the weatherman in Anchorman) insults Paul Lynde with an impersonation that would make Rich Little cringe.

Nicole Kidman is miscast as the romantically curious Isabel. She doesn't play the character convincingly and never channels Elizabeth Montgomery, even though that's what she's trying to do. She gets the nose twitch right - probably because the script smells so bad that it's a natural reaction. Likewise, Will Farrell is out of his element. In the right role, Farrell can be hilarious. In the wrong role - like Jack Wyatt - he's unfunny and comes across as desperate. The film also features an appearance by an actress named Kristin Chenoweth, who has the distinction of being the most annoying supporting character in any 2005 movie to-date. Hearing fingernails on a blackboard would have been more appealing that being exposed to her half-dozen scenes. Bewitched begs for a cameo from an original series actor; unfortunately, all of the regulars (Montgomery, Moorehead, David White, and the two Dicks) are dead. At least Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman are still around to do their duty in next year's big screen treatment of Bewitched's rival.

If I take the time to analyze what's wrong with Bewitched, it's easy to pick out the problem. Ephron can't decide whether she wants it to be. A satire that mocks Hollywood and pokes fun at the cheesy aspects of the original? An homage that pays tribute to a show almost everyone in America has seen? Or When Darren Met Samantha? Ephron doesn't know, and this causes a narrative tug-of-war resulting in a tone that's as uneven as a roller coaster. Plus, it's just not funny. Despite every possible reminder of Bewitched (including clips from the TV program, photographs of Samantha, and different renditions of the theme song - even one sung by Frank Sinatra), the movie fails to connect with the show on any level - emotional, intellectual, or nostalgic. It's a disgrace from start to finish. There are only two remotely clever moments. The first of these is the "new" TV series credits. The second occurs at the end - far too little and too late to prevent this rancid cinematic morsel from causing major indigestion. In a way, it's a good thing all the cast members are dead. That way, they have been spared the sad sight of what Hollywood of the '00s did to their show.

Bewitched (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2005-06-24
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1