Director Nora Ephron attempts to bury Will Ferrell’s comic brilliance in Bewitched.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
With Bewitched, director Nora Ephron has gone and crafted a re-imagining of the vintage mediocre 1960s sitcom that’s more entertainment-industry goof than faithful duplication. Will Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, a fading movie star whose last crashing failure of a black-and-white artsy drama has him grasping for a starring role on a TV show. The vehicle will be an updated version of that vintage mediocre 1960s sitcom Bewitched—and just to make sure no one steals his thunder as Darren, he wants to cast an unknown like Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) as Samantha.
BEWITCHED (* * ½ )
Directed by Nora Ephron
Starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine.
(PG-13, 112 mins.) At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Northridge Cinemas, Century Park Seven
Now here’s the ironic part: In the show-within-the-movie Bewitched, ostensible center of the project Jack discovers that the audience only really seems interested when Isabel’s on screen. And in the movie itself, Kidman’s character is the ostensible center of the project, but the audience only really seems interested when Ferrell’s on screen.
Isabel, we quickly discover, is an actual witch, longing to give up a life of instant gratification for mortal normalcy. She wants love, and that’s what Ephron wants to give her. Ephron also wants to give Kidman the same kind of spunky, cute character typical of her collaborations with Meg Ryan in movies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.
But Ephron’s also got Ferrell, who’s not about to sit still for something that conventional. Ferrell may already be the most ferociously brilliant comic actor working in movies today, capable of giving mundane lines a static charge. He’s hilarious both as a celebrity basking in his own egomania—“Make me 20 cappuccinos, and then bring me the best one”—and as a moony suitor when a hex has him falling for Isabel. The force of his presence drives nearly every laugh Bewitched has to offer.
It’s exasperating, then, watching Bewitched spend so much time trying to cram the witchcraft element of the story into a Will Ferrell showcase. Isabel dutifully wriggles her nose, her warlock daddy (Michael Caine) shows up periodically in an ascot, Shirley MacLaine does what amounts to a cameo as the diva actress playing Endora, and Aunt Clara (Carole Shelley) drops down the chimney for reasons I still can’t quite fathom. Bewitched often doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, primarily because it often seems like Ephron is hamstrung into using touchstones from the original series that have nothing to do with what is actually funny about this movie.
Truth is, it’s not really clear what kind of movie Bewitched is trying to be. There are moments when Ephron looks like she’s aiming for her comfort zone of upscale romantic comedy. Then she’ll veer off into slapstick. Then there’s a bit of show-biz satire complete with James Lipton and Conan O’Brien appearances. And then there are purely Ferrell bits of business that feel far too subversively original to have come from Ephron’s rim-shot-fueled word processor.
So we’re left with a strange kind of brand name cash-in, a movie that feels like every attempt to justify using the title Bewitched feels forced. If you’re like me, you’ll spend half of Bewitched laughing hysterically, and the other half wondering, “Can’t I just see a movie about Will Ferrell as a washed-up actor, please?”