By Joe Lozito
Wife's a Witch
Firstly I have to confess: when it came to "Bewitched", I dreamt of Jeannie. Still, I appreciated the campy fun of the 60s sitcom about a housewife trying to keep her magical powers in check. Of course, aside from the subversively sexy Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha, and two exchangeable Dicks (York and Sargent) as beleaguered husband Darren, it was mostly the zany supporting cast that kept the series going for nearly eight years.
Saddled with the concept of reinventing "Bewitched" for the big screen, Nora Ephron - the brains behind a veritable Top Ten list of romantic comedies (from "When Harry Met Sally" to "You've Got Mail") - has a clever conceit in mind. Working with her sister Delia, the Ephrons devise a film which revolves around a TV remake of "Bewitched" starring a has-been actor named Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell). Jack's career is in the toilet after a film which sold zero DVDs, so he attempts to cast an unknown as Samantha and tailor the show around his Darren. Little does he know the woman he casts is Isabel Bigelow, a real live witch.
Ms. Ephron casts Nicole Kidman as her surrogate Meg Ryan. While Ms. Ryan may not have been up to the task, Ms. Kidman is also not ideally suited for the role. Isabel, like her TV counterpart, is a witch who wants to be human in order to feel love. But Ms. Kidman chooses to make Isabel a borderline airhead instead of a woman of real substance. Ms. Ephron seems happy enough to let her star strike cutesy poses as she self-consciously pouts her way through the part with a breathy undefined accent. There are a few genuine moments, particularly in an endearing scene when Isabel and Jack make goo-goo eyes at each other across a soundstage, when Ms. Kidman lets her guard down and we see the woman beneath. The original Samantha was wickedly smart under her domestic exterior; Ms. Kidman's Isabel is almost too bratty to elicit any real sympathy.
Thankfully, Will Ferrell is around keep the laughs coming. His cappuccino-draining Jack Wyatt is a perfect blend of self-absorbed neuroses. After seeing Mr. Ferrell's doughy, six-plus foot frame drunkenly streaking as Frank the Tank in "Old School", I wouldn't have thought of him as romantic leading man material. But like Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and most recently Jimmy Fallon, Mr. Ferrell can be by turns goofy and sincere without losing his charm. He makes it easy to see why Isabel is smitten with this man who's "a complete mess".
The Ephrons have an easy way with the romantic-comedy genre. All the pieces are in place, and while "Bewitched" sags and chugs along in spots, there's enough laughs to sustain about two-thirds of the film. "Bewitched" eventually runs out of steam during a thankless, Paul Lynde-impersonating cameo from the reliably funny Steve Carell. By that time, the Ephrons seem to be looking for the quickest way to wrap up the plot threads. It's possible they figured out why the original "Bewitched" was made as a sitcom. The plot's only interesting for about a half hour.