Bewitched * 1/2
Directed by Nora Ephron; written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tia Nolan; music by George Fenton; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Nora Ephron, Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Penny Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures. 91 minutes. PG-13. WITH: Nicole Kidman (Isabel Bigelow), Will Ferrell (Jack Wyatt), Shirley MacLaine (Iris Smythson), Michael Caine (Nigel Bigelow), Jason Schwartzman (Richie), Kristin Chenoweth (Maria Kelly), Heather Burns (Nina), Stephen Colbert (Stu Robison), David Alan Grier (Jim Fields) and Steve Carell (Uncle Arthur).
Subject, info and backgound: Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) is a star on the skids - and in the throes of divorce - who hopes to regain his old glory with a movie vaguely inspired by the once most popular TV-series "Bewitched" (1964-72, ABC) He needs someone to play the title role - but of course he plans to steal the show from the witch Samantha.
On TV, Samantha was played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of the elegant star Robert Montgomery. (The late, lamented Elizabeth (1933-1995) died at age 57, while married to -this being Hollywood- her fourth husband.
In the current movie, the witch is Nicole Kidman, one of the AAA-ranking stars of today. After "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), the swansong of the great Stanley Kubrick, Ms. Kidman starred in a slew of movies: "Moulin Rouge!," "The Others," "Birthday Girl" (all in 2001.) Then in "The Hours," (2002), "Dogville," "The Human Stain," "Cold Mountain" (2003), "The Stepford Wives," "Birth," (2004), "The Interpreter," now "Bewitched" (2005.)
Here, as Isabel Bigelow, she is a sweet thing who, tired and burdened by her witchness yearns for a normal, natural life. Ms. Kidman is very likeable, very sweet, and very good in that movie. There are also short roles for Michael Caine (as Nigel Bigelow, Isabel's also witchy father), and Shirley MacLaine (Iris Smythson) who will play Endora, Samantha's mother. Their parts are nice little plusses to the movie (the one we watch) but cannot raise its standing. In fact, everybody here, including Ms. Kidman, is downplayed in order to make Will Ferrell THE star, one that way overacts at the expense of all others. There's so much ham that Muslims and kosher people would find it unacceptable.
The result is a movie that tries to hard to be cute, goes in too many directions, leaves a lot of footage dangling, has a half-baked direction, gets boring and arbitrary, is forced and almost killed by Ferrells' histrionics, where potential plusses skid in the wrong directions, where the un-natural overwhelms the supernatural - I'll stop here.
There is a minimum of clever bits, the main one being Ferrell being interviewed by James Lipton on the TV's series "Inside the Actors' Studio." Most likely, the joke will be wasted on most filmgoers.
I repeat. The main saving grace here is Nicole Kidman.
What saddens me is that the movie was directed by Nora Ephron and written by her and Delia Ephron. Nora is someone to reckon with. She wrote, among other scripts: "Silkwood," "You've Got Mail," (also directed), "When Harry Met Sally," "This is My Life," (also directed) "Sleepless in Seattle," (also directed), "You've Got Mail," and "My Blue Heaven," one of the funniest movies ever made (starring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack." Sister Delia co-wrote "This is My Life," "You've Got Mail," and the current "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."
You can't win 'em all.