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Bewitched (7/10)

by Tony Medley

I was not a huge fan of the ‘60s TV series. I saw it a few times and it was cute, but hardly compelling. Couple that fact with my opinion of Will Farrell off his last few movies, the horrible “Anchorman” (2004) and “Kicking and Screaming” (2005), and I was not going into this with great anticipation.

So I was pleasantly surprised when writer-director-producer Nora Ephron came up with an idea that worked. That is, to tell the story not by updating it, but by having a TV show inside a movie. She has Jack Wyatt (Farrell) and Isabel (Nicole Kidman) trying to resurrect the old TV show inside the movie.

Like the old show, Isabel is a witch who wants to go straight, against the advice of her father, Nigel Bigelow (Michael Caine). Wyatt is a much-disliked star who is trying to take advantage of his star value and is insufferably egotistical. He meets Isabel in a market while looking for someone to play the fictional Isabel in the TV show and sees her wriggle her nose.

Farrell found someone who can bring out the best in him, and that someone is Ephron. She’s written a role he can handle (mostly) and has directed him astutely. Kidman can apparently do anything on screen now and she is as good as she always is.

The weakest part of the film is Jason Schwartzman as Jack’s manager, Richie. The production notes describe him as an “unctuous manager.” Alas, the role is so poorly written and directed that Richie adds nothing to the film. With better talent and a better script, Richie’s role could have been a hilarious takeoff on the Hollywood manager. Unfortunately, Richie falls flat.

Shirley MacLaine, as Iris, who plays Endora, Isabel’s TV mom, is another disappointment. She is appropriately overdressed, but let down by the script. It’s odd that Ephron, the author of the classic “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), fails so dismally with Richie and Iris. MacLaine is not in many scenes, so a lot of what she did might be on the cutting room floor.

The movie moves along and is cute and funny and appealing for about 75 minutes of its 98 minute running time. Then it comes to a crashing halt when Ephron switches from a comedy to a love story. The last 20 minutes or so are so excruciating I can’t honestly say I didn’t fall asleep. There’s one scene of Jack and Isabel dancing that is so bad it epitomizes why people should not produce and direct their own films. Producer Ephron didn’t have the courage to tell director Ephron that the scene doesn’t work.

The film just completely falls apart, mainly because the last 20 minutes are poorly written, poorly directed, and being a romantic lead is beyond Farrell’s capabilities. My advice? Go see it but at about the 75 minute mark, or when you see it going from comedy to a love story, split.

June 16, 2005