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"Lacks cohesion and chemistry, essential ingredients to the original's success."
"Takes a variety of detours and subsequently, struggles to create any real on screen chemistry."
"A breezy, light-hearted comedy without a center."
Bewitched  

Cast

Isabel Bigelow: Nicole Kidman
Jack Wyatt: Will Ferrell
Iris Smythson: Shirley MacLaine
Nigel Bigelow: Michael Caine
Richie: Jason Schwartzman
Maria Kelly: Kristin Chenoweth
Uncle Arthur: Steve Carell
Review July 2005

The unmistakable twitch of the nose. The enchanting theme and arrangements by Warren Barker. The lovely and cheerful Elizabeth Montgomery. All of these characteristics helped distinguish "Bewitched" as one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. Depicting the every day life of a suburban household under the influence of magic, "Bewitched" dazzled and delighted audiences with humorous, socially aware stories. Now, many years later, the well-known director of "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" adapts the classic into a modern tale. But rather than rehash the old, Nora Ephron and her sister Delia concoct a different scheme - a remake within a remake. Starring Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman, "Bewitched" tells the story of Jack Wyatt, a failed actor, who is offered a comeback role in a remake of the famed television series. And his co-star, Isabel Bigelow, happens to be a real witch. Although filled with occasional wit and humor, it lacks cohesion and chemistry, essential ingredients to the original's success. Muddled and misguided, this "Bewitched" cannot conjure up any magic of its own.

Jack Wyatt is a movie star whose career has been slowly sinking. In a last ditch effort to salvage his reputation, his friend Richie coaxes him to star in a modern version of the popular television series "Bewitched." Desperate and delirious, Jack signs on to play Darrin Stephens, an unsuspecting mortal who falls in love with a real witch. But he has one important prerequisite: The woman cast as Samantha Stephens must be an unknown actress, one who will not outshine or upstage him in any way. Of course, the studio agrees. And after countless auditions with little luck, Jack runs into the lovely Isabel Bigelow at a local bookstore. Captivated by her remarkable beauty and uncanny nose twitching skills, Jack is instantly smitten, convinced she is perfect for the role. But little does he suspect that Isabel is really a witch.

Oddly enough, Isabel is also a little desperate. She desperately wants to lead a normal life outside of the witching world. So, she finds a cute little house and a cute little car and settles into a cute little neighborhood. And after being offered the role of Samantha, she gladly accepts, hoping that Jack is the kind of guy who will love her for herself. But Samantha's father Nigel warns her that this may be tricky, that it may be difficult to find a mortal who will accept her for who she is, not for what she can do. Furthermore, he is convinced that she will be unable to give up magic in her quest for normalcy. Determined to prove her father wrong, Isabel sets out on her own. But it's not long before she discovers her real purpose on the show. And soon thereafter, a series of funny and unexpected events occur, events that reveal the positive and negative effects of magic and the positive and negative effects on the human heart.

"Bewitched" first hit the airwaves on September 17, 1964 and quickly became a smash success, second only to "Bonanza" in popularity after its debut. For nearly eight seasons and well over 250 episodes, the situational comedy starring Elizabeth Montgomery as the good-hearted witch, Samantha, earned numerous awards and made its mark in television history, running in syndication for more than 40 years. At the heart of the show's success: a delightful cast, creative writing, and an endless use of sight gags showing off the powers of witchcraft at the snap of a finger or the twinkle of a nose. Produced and directed by William Asher, known for such hits as "I Love Lucy," "Gidget," and "Make Room for Daddy," the show also had a remarkable way of balancing fantasy or the supernatural within a political and social context - the difficulties of marriage and parenthood, women's rights, relationships with in-laws and nosey neighbors, consumerism, as well as the complexities of witchhood in a mortal world. All in all, the quality and popularity of the show helped garner a reputation as one of the fifty greatest television shows of all time.

Sadly, however, this version of "Bewitched" is nowhere close to its predecessor. Written by Nora Ephron's sister, Delia, the film manages a clever twist on the well-known sitcom, creating a remake within a remake, whereby a real witch named Isabel Bigelow and a failed actor named Jack Wyatt come together to make a modern "Bewitched" television series. But there's one slight problem with this. For much of the film, the two main characters remain separated, living two distinct lifestyles under two different roofs - an approach that worked to perfection in "Sleepless in Seattle," but fails miserably here because of a change in focus. "Sleepless" was about a long distant relationship where the physicality of the characters was insignificant. But in the original "Bewitched," Samantha and Darrin get married and are placed together in the very first episode. And their relationship or togetherness became the focal point. Struggling to find ways to put Isabel and Jack together, this film takes a variety of detours and subsequently, struggles to create any real on screen chemistry.

Of course, my biggest pet peeve with remakes and re-imaginings is that the filmmakers and studios behind the projects invest very little effort in understanding what made the original so successful. Without comprehension, films like this continue to get made, simply recycling name and nuance without the infusion of any soul. For instance, in "Bewitched," the key to its success fell squarely on the shoulders of Samantha. Portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery, Samantha was an independent woman, strong and smart. And her decision to ignore the wishes of her parents and the Witches Council demonstrated her own free will or a desire to live life on her own terms. It was also an ingenious social commentary on women's lib. But in Nora Ephron's "Bewitched," the lead character possesses none of those qualities. She is Isabel Bigelow, a dim witted woman with virtually no common sense. Carefree and naive, she opens a case of soft drinks with childish enthusiasm; she resets a fast food clock to order breakfast, and even purchases groceries with a Tarot card. Each of these instances becomes more detrimental, interpreted and re-engineered horribly wrong only to be exacerbated by the fluff in Kidman's voice.

Likewise, you could say the same thing about Will Ferrell's character, a different interpretation of the Darrin found in the classic. But the original Darrin never had much meat to begin with. And to no surprise, Ferrell's off the wall antics are the film's saving grace. As Jack Wyatt, he goes overboard as a failed actor with a bruised and battered ego. But more importantly, he just seems to be having fun. Regardless of the role, Will Ferrell's appeal as a comedian and an actor is that he is an adorable big man unafraid to pull out all the stops for a simple laugh. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But you know he's giving every ounce of energy - faking outlandish demands during a pitch or freaking out after Isabel's revelation. Additionally, the film makes good use of comedic supporting characters. There's Michael Caine as the ever-present father, Nigel; Shirley MacLaine as the aloof, Iris Smythson; Jason Schwartzman as an aggressive dealmaker; Kristin Chenowith as Isabel's bright and cheery neighbor; and Steve Carell, adding his own oddball wit as Uncle Arthur.

Overall, however, this "Bewitched" is a breezy, light-hearted comedy without a center. Much of this is attributed to a lack of focus, whereby the main characters have very little in common, share very little time together, and seem almost content to live on their own terms. And the wrong interpretation of Isabel Bigelow doesn't help matters, betraying the very essence of the original Samantha. But there's something more. For all its charm, humor, and magic, "Bewitched" was an intelligent show that explored important themes like adultery, vanity, hysteria, and materialism. With over twenty Emmy nominations, it received the coveted Governor's Award for an episode entitled, "Sisters at Heart," for tackling issues of bigotry and interracial relationships. For unlike this modern flop, there is much more to "Bewitched" than a simple twitch of the nose.



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