The funniest thing in BEWITCHED is an oddly touching attachment Will Ferrell’s character, Jack Wyatt, develops for a bottle of ketchup he picked up during an off-screen interlude in New Mexico. It’s barely mentioned, but there it is in a couple of scenes, clutched tenaciously the way a kid clutches his blankie in times of trouble. It’s classic Ferrell, silly and yet moving in a way that is at once Dada-esque and childlike. The second funniest thing is Jason Scwartzman as Jack’s agent who, whether by chance or design, is doing a surprisingly credible impression of Tom Cruise. Apparently it is all about the hair and the jawline. Beyond that, what wants to be an affable homage to the spirit, if not the exact storyline of the original television series of the same name, is, instead, an effort that appears to be held together by baling wire and chewing gum. That would be an off-brand of both items.
Instead of an adman married to a witch, it’s the story of Jack, an ex-movie star whose last film, LAST NIGHT IN KATMANDU, lost more money than the GNP of Andorra and then set a record for selling zero DVDs. On the ropes career-wise and with a wife who dumped him for an underwear model, his last shot is a remake the original series as a vehicle for himself. To this end, he insists on an unknown actress to play Samantha and, magically, he finds her in a bookstore, twitching her nose as she peruses the stock. She’s Isabelle (Nicole Kidman, hence making the whole Tom Cruise/Jason Schwartzman thing even more peculiar) and she really is a witch, but one who longs for a normal life, albeit one with the trappings that would make Martha Stewart proud, but without instant gratification, mostly, and where she believes she will find true love. Her father, Nigel (Michael Caine) is appalled, her mother has disappeared, and Marie (Kristen Chenoweth), her perky next-door neighbor is around strictly to have her break into happy feet, an activity that leads one to ponder whose decision it was not to outfit Ms Chenoweth with a sports bra.
Our two stars are given the chance to go through some deep character development, but are not given much of a script to back it up. Jack, the poster child for egocentric idiot star suddenly grows a heart , going from pig to puppy-dog after a tongue-lashing by Isabelle. Isabelle goes from naïve newby in mortal-land (has she never met one before?) to scorned co-star who still wants to make out with Jack. And if that isn’t bad enough, there are curves like Uncle Arthur (Steve Carell). Is he supposed to be a figment of Jack’s imagination, a manifestation of the fictional character from the television series somehow brought to life, or something altogether different?
Caine and Shirley MacLaine, who plays hammy actress playing Endora, are both wasted. They make the most of what they have to work with like the slick pros that they are with a dash of class and panache, as does Carole Shelley as Isabelle’s bumbling Aunt Clara, a dead ringer, delicious bumble for delicious bumble, for Marion Lorne, who played her in the original series. It only throws flick’s shortcomings into even bolder relief. Jack giving Isabelle acting lessons by way of flirting, for example, or the musical interlude where Ferrell and Kidman try very, very hard to appear to be having a romp and yet can’t quite make it work.
The original series had a special charm. A woman with everything at her fingertips gives it all up for the man she loves. Mostly. Sure, Samantha was the one who was actually in charge, but the way she carefully and lovingly nurtured Darrin’s delicate ego transcended the less politically correct ancillary issues. All the new BEWITCHED has to offer is Nicole Kidman’s excellent nose-twitching, and that ketchup bottle. It’s just not the same.