‘Bewitched’ doesn’t conjure up much

USA Today

Will Ferrell recently announced on ‘The Daily Show’ that ‘Bewitched’ “is more a public service than a comedy” about the evils of sorcery. “When you get mixed up in witchcraft,” he said, “you get burned.”

And when talented actors and filmmakers get mixed up in convoluted remakes of witchy ’60s TV shows, the audience gets burned. In the movie, Ferrell’s egocentric character, Jack Wyatt, keeps explaining to people, “It’s not the same ‘Bewitched’ you remember. It’s retooled.” And not for the better.

Where the sitcom starring Elizabeth Montgomery was elegantly simple, the movie’s concept is forced and clunky. Isabel (Nicole Kidman) is a real witch who is trying to go straight and live a normal life. Meanwhile, Wyatt is desperately trying to restart his floundering acting career. He is set on playing Darrin in a remake of the sitcom and begins to audition Samanthas. Isabel is hired mainly because of her expert nose-wiggling skills. So Isabel is a witch, and she’s playing one on TV. (We’re meant to wonder if this is also true for Shirley MacLaine, who plays Endora.) Isabel, who has slogged through bad relationships with warlocks and wizards, is interested in Jack and the romantic mortal potential he offers. But Jack isn’t looking for love or even someone to share his stardom. Once Isabel figures it out, she is faced with doing what she swore she wouldn’t: using her powers. Kidman is a capable, serious actress who takes professional risks. She excelled in the darkly humorous ‘To Die For’ a decade ago, playing a maniacally ambitious TV personality. In this film, she’s the polar opposite: sweet, ditzy and boring. And the screenplay, written by Nora and Delia Ephron, isn’t very funny, either. Ferrell is a seriously talented comedian. So why does he choose to get mixed up in such bad high-concept movies?

‘Bewitched’ does have a few laughs, thanks to Ferrell’s antics. Some of the wittiest contemporary comedians are on board, notably ‘The Office’s Steve Carell and ‘The Daily Show’s Stephen Colbert, but they are underused.

(‘Bewitched,’ genre comedy, cast Will Ferrell, Nicole Kidman, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine,direction Nora Ephron, time: 1 hour, 38 minutes)