Last year saw Nicole Kidman come out with “The Stepford Wives”, a production which started out with the interesting idea of remaking the classic sci-fi/dark comedy. Unfortunately it became one of the most famous troubled movies in Hollywood history, one that had to be reshot and re-edited countless times. What was left was a muddled mess that, whilst occasionally amusing, in narrative terms was simply a wreck which made little sense.
Now comes “Bewitched”, another remake (albeit of a great sitcom) which had a much smoother production history and is written with a far bolder style. Instead of a direct remake, the Ephron sisters decided to try and do something far more ambitious and give us a movie about the actors involved in a TV show remake of the classic sitcom, although this time the ‘Samantha’ of the piece will be a real witch and no-one knows. It’s a bold and interesting idea and had it stuck to the ground rules it laid out early on, it would’ve made sense.
Unfortunately after a somewhat fun half hour, the production simply starts falling down a steady slope towards an inevitable crash. Characters from the TV show (eg. Aunt Clara and Uncle Arthur) suddenly exist in real life even though in the film’s universe “Bewitched” also existed as a TV show. Ferrell, who’s schtick usually can raise the quality of a production, spends most of his time blindly screaming at everyone. It’d be fine if he weren’t playing such an unlikable and arrogant asshole.
There’s all sorts of little movies going on inside “Bewitched” ranging from a simple yawn-inducing old-fashioned romantic comedy between Ferrell and Kidman (despite both having zero chemistry together), to a barely amusing satire of Hollywood and the entertainment business. Easily the best ‘film within the film’ element is the almost “Splash” or “My Stepmother is an Alien” like scenes early on of witch Kidman having a ball playing with everyday items in her house. Kidman’s sheer cheery enthusiasm, combined with solid support from a naughty but charming Michael Caine and the bubbly Kristin Chenoweth make this one of the strongest starts to a ‘TV to film’ adaptation I can recall.
Its when the focus shifts to Ferrell and the attempts at romance come in the cracks begin to rip everything apart at the seams. There’s a whole 20 minute subplot involving Aunt Clara, Kidman getting her own way, and a time reversal trick that feels like a cheat and could easily have been excised. Ditto the big finale in which Steve Carrell portrays Uncle Arthur effectively in look but is given absolutely nothing to do short of being unfunny. Shirley Maclaine has the odd good joke but even she feels let down by an underwritten part whilst a key element to her character suddenly emerges out of nowhere towards the end (and is never resolved).
You can see the performers, the production people, the cinematographer, etc. have all put in an effort to deliver a film that looks on a visual level quite superb, whilst smaller roles strike with more spark than they deserve to. Kudos as well to the music men for selecting a score of witch related songs cued at just the right time to deliver their own clever laughs. What’s lacking here though is a concise script and more importantly direction. When the film follows its early path of affectionately paying tribute whilst sending up the original series and staying along that line its a decent little ride.
Yet one quickly finds that it can’t seem to settle on what kind of comedy it wants to be and tries a variety of things – all of which grow more confusing and drag the pace down. By the end one just has to hold up their hands in frustration at the way fantasy, reality, and TV show mix together in a mess that renders everything that has come before it ridiculous. I guiltily had a few good laughs watching “Bewitched”, but can’t help but feel that had the script been better developed and a surer hand had been at the helm – we could’ve had a truly magical comedy instead of a magical lump of trash.