"So what's up with your ex-husband?"

© 2005, Columbia Pictures
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After his acting career in movies bottoms out, Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) accepts the role of Darren in a television remake of "Bewitched" (IMDb listing). At the urging of his agent (Jason Schwartzman), Jack demands a newcomer for the Samantha role, and finds his muse in a real life witch named Isabel (Nicole Kidman). Isabel is enamored with Jack, much to the chagrin of her father (Michael Caine), and she accepts the role, only to learn how Hollywood is really run: with heaps and heaps of ego. Using the witchcraft she swore was behind her, Isabel tries to get Jack to change his boorish ways without giving away her true powers.

The central gimmick behind "Bewitched" is an interesting twist on the expected straight-up remake. This feature film bends the original '60s sitcom in an itchy, post-modern way, much like "Scream" did for slasher movies back in the 1990s. And much like "Scream," "Bewitched" doesn't quite know what to do with itself once it reaches the end of its initial cleverness. As a sharp attempt to buck current remake trends, it's a fine attempt; as a feature film, "Bewitched" is lacking serious sparkle.

Coming out of a five-year sabbatical is writer/director Nora Ephron, she of teeth-grindingly shrill comedies like "Michael" and "You've Got Mail." While holding a lauded list of entertainment achievements, I've never felt Ephron was much of a filmmaker, for she clings too tightly to the recognizable and pedestrian to survive her own endeavors. However, now Ephron is faced with Will Ferrell, a comedic bobcat who loves to play unconventionally. So, what happens when these two styles meet in the arena of a big-budget summer comedy? Sadly, nothing much. After last May's heartbreaking "Kicking and Screaming," Ferrell has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he needs a director who can match his lightening-quick thought process and penchant for gleeful absurdity (like Adam McKay or John Favreau) without relying on it to provide the only laughs for the film. Ephron isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, the right woman for that job.

"Bewitched" tries to be both a wacky special effects comedy and a syrupy romantic comedy, and the mixture creates more moments of unease than desired audience sympathy. On one side you have the dynamic between Isabel and Jack, and their cutesy, spell-enhanced courtship, which comes together gently due to the unexpected chemistry between Ferrell and Kidman. And on the other side of the film is Ferrell's brand of tomfoolery, often seen in improvisational yelling matches and other traditional Ferrell moments audiences have come to expect. Somewhere stuck in the middle of the material is the actual "Bewitched" sitcom send-up, which comes and goes in the film with little consequence, especially in the way the film swats away Shirley MacLaine's cameo as the magical stepmother Endora without much thought. There are far too many colliding tempos in the screenplay (written by Ephron and her sister Delia), the direction, and the performances to make a consistent movie, and the director's inability to understand how Ferrell's bottle rocket comedy should be placed in the flow of the story is frustrating. "Bewitched" has plenty of laughs, but they're the odd kind that come quickly and unexpectedly, and leave just as fast. This picture is not the steady belly-roll it desperately desires to be.

As "Bewitched" rumbles along, the enterprise becomes grabbier for clever material, and a last minute idea to put mediocre comedic actor Steve Carell in the film doing an awful impression of Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur is a movie low point. While the picture gives Nicole Kidman a much needed chance to flex her honeyed comedic skills (along with making her so adorable, baby pandas should sue), and hands Ferrell another cakewalk role he can breeze through, in the end, "Bewitched" is a poorly executed mess that no wiggle of the nose can save.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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