May 12, 2006 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 12, 2006 |


Honestly, for some inexplicable reason, I thought that this time might be different. Sure, heretofore, no one has made a film that successfully mined the television gold of the past, leaving us instead with the bad (The Brady Bunch Movie, Starsky & Hutch), the very bad (The Honeymooners), and the oh-God!-did-someone-just-rip-out-my-pubic-hairs-one-by-one-and-leave- me-with-a-mangled-love-triangle bad (Fat Albert, The Beverly Hillbillies). But then again, previous attempts never bothered to sign up big-time, blockbuster Hollywood movie stars (Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell), a screenwriting team with an actual track record (the Sisters Ephron), or a director (Nora Ephron) with at least enough talent to have us believe that Meg Ryan would willingly suck face with Tom Hanks. So, you can understand my optimism. I’m not suggesting that Nora Ephron — who inflicted not one, but two John Travolta stinkers upon us (Lucky Numbers and Michael) — has any more filmmaking talent than a mediocre porn auteur, or that Will Ferrell is comedic magic or anything, it’s just that, at least it’s a step up from asking Jim Varney to play Jed Clampett, right?

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But, you’d be wrong. Instead, what we get is a painstakingly dull, unfathomably painful, solipsistic exercise in the masturbatory marketing practices of Hollywood executives, who delight in nothing more than robbing the relevant demographic of money better spent downloading the latest generic single from an “American Idol”-manufactured “rock star.” It’s a good thing that Sony Pictures isn’t running the Department of Defense, lest we have another goddamn humanitarian crisis on our hands, one in which Guantanamo Bay detainees are subjected to repeated viewings of Bewitched, an interrogation technique so inhumane not even Donald Rumsfeld could stoop to it.

Bewitched starts out with an interesting enough premise: Jack Wyatt (Ferrell), a major Hollywood movie star suffering a meltdown, decides in an attempt to salvage his career to take the role of Darren in an updated version of the “Bewitched” television sitcom. A self-centered, egomaniacal twit, Jack envisions his role as the predominant one in the series, and sets about finding an unknown actress to play the role of his TV wife, Samantha. Enter Isabel Bigelow (Kidman), a witch who — like Samantha — is trying to give up the instant gratification of witchcraft in favor settling down into a normal, mortal life, where she can sit around at the Coffee Bean with her friends and “discuss problems that have no solutions.”

Soon thereafter, Wyatt stumbles upon her in a bookstore and discovers that she has the unique ability to twitch her nose like that of the sitcom witch, yet another in a vapid pile of meta-coincidental gimmickry between the movie’s characters and those in the sitcom. Expectedly, Isabel is cast as Samantha, at which point the screenwriters have penned themselves into a corner, leaving nothing better to do for the rest of the movie than rely on Ferrell’s brand of violently surrealist comedy, a bad setup for a director more familiar with the whimsically romantic banality involved in the exchange of emails.

Will Ferrell’s performance as Jack/Darren is the equivalent of one of those premature greatest hits packages musical artists are always releasing to fulfill their record contracts; he hauls out all his best stuff — the non sequitur yelling, his over-the-top scatology, and even that goddamn James Lipton impression — but it all feels so stale and hackneyed, as though Ephron put Ferrell in front of a camera with little more guidance than to say, “Hey Will, can you just do that thing you did in that movie you were in.” Likewise, Nicole Kidman — on paper, anyway — couldn’t have been better cast to play Samantha, but she’s not really playing the sitcom witch; she’s playing Isabel, a ditzy, Marilyn-Monroe voiced bimbo who actually comes across as a less empowered woman than her 1960s counterpart. In fact, it is a performance remarkably similar to the her portrayal of the prostitute Satine in Moulin Rouge, as she was attempting to seduce The Duke.

Shirley MacLaine shows up here too, playing Endora; she certainly has the right look for an updated Agnes Moorehead, but offers little else, as she is relegated to a minor role in a forgettable performance full of empty winks and nods. The director — with some assistance from Ferrell, no doubt — also had sense enough to cast three present and former “Daily Show” correspondents, notably Steve Carrell as Uncle Arthur, but even they are muted by the too-obvious humor of the script. I don’t even know what to make of Jason Schwartzman, who plays Jack’s asshole agent, Ritchie; with each subsequent movie, Schwartzman manages to further tarnish the reputation he built with Rushmore. In fact, only Michael Caine comes out of Bewitched unscathed; as Isabel’s Alfie-like warlock father, he steals each scene he’s in with the magical flair only Caine can conjure.

Maybe the only funny scene in all of Bewitched is of the unintentional variety — midway through the film, Isabel casts a love spell on Jack, causing him to flit about, egregiously gnawing and pawing, sweating profusely, and uncontrollably effusing Ferrellian gaga; of course, it was probably only mildly amusing to me, because my interior monologue kept comparing it to Kidman’s ex-husband’s furniture-kicking shenanigans on Oprah. Appropriately, the relationship between the Kidman and Ferrell characters has a lot in common with that of the Cruise/Katie publicity monster — it’s loud, embarrassing, aggressive, and thoroughly unconvincing, so much so that Ephron had to resort to R.E.M.s “Everybody Hurts,” in a futile attempt to extract some emotional resonance. I, for one, think it’s only appropriate that the song’s title would so reflect the sentiment of those of us subjected to the agonizing torture that is Bewitched.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Congratulations, Hollywood. You've Ruined Another Classic Sitcom.

Bewitched / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()




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