The original “Bewitched” had just the right combination of romance, comedy and wit to make audiences forget about their Watergates, assassinations and moon landings. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York (later Dick Sargent) had all the magic America needed. Columbia’s new big-screen adaptation of “Bewitched” inevitably falls short of living up to the splendor of the original, but it’s a commendable romantic comedy in its own right, with enough humor and charm to briefly entertain.
The first thing to remember about the big-screen version of “Bewitched” is that it’s not a remake of the original but rather a loose adaptation. It features Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell, “Anchorman”), a washed-up actor who agrees to do a remake of the TV show to get his career out of the sewer. Hoping to make himself look good, he seeks out an unknown to co-star as Samantha and finds the seemingly perfect fit in Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman, “The Stepford Wives”). Little does poor Mr. Wyatt know how perfect of a fit Isabel really is — that in reality, she is a witch looking to fit in, just like Samantha.
The film moves along rather well and has a certain light-hearted charm that elevates it above other recent movies of its genre (see “A Lot Like Love” and “Monster in Law”). Kidman for her part is excellent, emitting perfectly the aura of an outsider who wants to belong. Her relationship to her Warlock father, Nigel Bigelow (Michael Caine, “The Cider House Rules”), though somewhat underdeveloped, is a functional lens for viewing her personal struggle. Ferrell plays the part of a self-centered actor well, occasionally cutting loose with his chubby, overdeveloped humor.
“Bewitched” is directed by Norah Ephron and written by her sister, Delia, the team behind the watershed romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail.” Above all, they are known for the simple charm and wit seamlessly infused into otherwise mundane situations, resulting in light-hearted but often insightful humor. Unfortunately, little of this trickled down to “Bewitched.” The Ephrons previously had the privilege of working with the unbeatable duo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, a pair who radiated more chemistry buying fruit on the street than Kidman and Ferrell manage while dancing cheek-to-cheek.
What’s more, Ferrell is unable to handle the many quiet, private moments of the film. Asking him to live up to the standard left by Hanks is unfair, but he doesn’t even approach a level of believability in his love for Isabel. “Bewitched” is a film that most people will enjoy in the moment, but over time, they’ll find that the enjoyment slips away like pixie dust.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars