Bewitched (PG)

Here’s a Hollywood sequel that really would have benefited from a straight re-telling, as a witch struggles with the onerous day-to-day duties of being a suburban wife in contemporary America.

At least, that’s the way it was during the long-running hit TV series with Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Agnes Moorehead. This rehash, with Nicole Kidman wrinkling her nose and Will Ferrell stepping into York’s shoes, tries to be a tad too clever-clever and, consequently, whacks itself over the head with a broomstick.

Isabel Bigelow (Kidman) is a bonafide witch who just wants a life of tedious normality. Her problem is that she just can’t stop casting innocent little spells to help her on her way through life. Dad Nigel (Michael Caine in another of his summer slumming jobs) warns her against opting out of witchery but Isabel will have none of it.

So she’s as surprised as anyone when her nose wrinkling – it’s a trait, not her witch’s way – catches the eye of waning movie star Jack Wyatt (Ferrell). Desperate for a job after the critical and commercial failure of his last movie Jack has signed up for (yes, you guessed it) a TV remake of the old Bewitched TV series.

Trouble is, he’s short of a co-star who can wrinkle her nose. Cue Isabel. Before she can say abracadabra she’s in the studio, reading lines, impressing studio chiefs with her witty ad-libs (they’re actually confessions from real life) and getting hired.

But Jack’s ego means he tales centre stage and Isabel’s character – the witch of the title – gets short shrift. And if hell has no fury like a woman scored, wait ‘til Isabel the witch gets ticked off…

The central conceit in this flaccid re-run is also its biggest downfall – the TV-show-within-a-film motif, which must have seemed a great idea to director/co-writer Nora (When Harry Met Sally) Ephron.

Ephron, one of the most overrated directors in America, has a track record for trotting out tat and, in the absence of the slowly fading Meg Ryan, the booby prize goes to Kidman.

It’s a poor choice. After the double whammy of The Human Stain and the remake of The Stepford Wives Kidman needed a cinematic pep pill. Bewitched isn’t it. Her Monroe-esque mannerisms and big-eyed innocence can’t save her from another misfire, particularly when she is acted off the screen by the manic Ferrell.

It’s Ferrell, rapidly becoming the gurner’s comedian of choice in US cinema, who comes out of this with the bouquets. He employs all his tricks to provide welcome laughs in a generally lacklustre picture where most of the laughs have already been seen in the trailer.

Caine ambles through the plot as a love interest for Shirley MacLaine, here playing an actress playing the character of Endora, mischievous mother to the TV heroine, Samantha. Trivia buffs will note that, aside from Wrestling Ernest Hemingway in 1993, it is their first major on-screen reunion since 1966’s Gambit.

In short Bewitched short-changes a modern audience. It has little of the wit and style of the original (albeit a TV series that ran for eight solid years) and disappoints because of its slim connections to a timeless and immensely popular show.

Ephron should be ashamed of herself.

Star rating: **

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