Film — Bewitched (PG-13)

 

By Amy Diaz

Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell are featherlight and kitten-cute in Bewitched, an under-baked lump-of-cookie-dough of a movie.

You know those first bites of cookie dough? So good, so luscious, so forbidden. But after a while, you want cookies — something solid that you can sink your teeth into and snack on for a while.

Bewitched starts silly — but entertainingly so — with the introduction of Isabel (Kidman), a breathy, wide-eyed witchy woman who arrives at a lovely Los Angeles home via her broomstick and proceeds to wave her hand until she’s got the owner renting it to her. She sets up her new life with meticulous attention to the mundane — towels and such. This is, she announces to her skeptical father (Michael Caine), part of her plan to try living a “real life.” No longer interested in the instant gratification of being a witch, Isabel, with the same naïve grandeur of a teenager making life-changing declarations, has decided to try life as a mortal and look for, among other things, both work and love. She believes she’s found both in one bundle when she runs into Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) an actor coming off a string of bad movies, Jack’s agreed to play Darrin in a television show remake of Bewitched. But, attempting to avoid a Dick York fate, he wants a Samantha who is completely unknown and unlikely to want the better lines and greater screen time for herself. He falls in love at the sight of Isabel — not so much in love with Isabel as in love with her ability to wiggle her nose exactly like Elizabeth Montgomery (the original Samantha).

Jack asks Isabel to be his TV wife and, while she’s repelled by the idea of playing exactly what she is (a witch trying to pass as a mortal), she’s attracted to the idea of spending so much time with Jack, who she finds a charming mess. All goes well until she realizes that the man she considered a potential mate has eyes only for himself.

About halfway through the movie, Isabel’s guiding principle becomes, essentially, “what would Samantha do?”. All told, this is not a completely faulty approach to decision making. Samantha, in retrospect, was fairly cool. Sure, she said she was giving up witchcraft but she never did — frequently shrugging her shoulders and giving in to the nose twitch to do housework. And, when pressured by a too-seductive Darrin-ex-girlfriend or a mean advertiser, Samantha had no problem putting the whammy on people.

Isabel has no problem with it as well. Like a girl who just can’t eat one potato chip, Isabel frequently says “no more” to magic and then gives in with a series of handy tricks to hook up her cable or take Jack’s ex-wife down a few pegs. And if she does so with less of an eyebrow arch and knowing smirk than Samantha, well, you can’t expect classic-television-nuance from a serious-ish movie actress.

The sense of ever-so-slightly-naughty whimsy and a sort of knowing guilelessness helps pull the movie along and make us chuckle, if not belly laugh, at the equally absurd Kidman and Ferrell — Kidman for her girlish desire for “reality” and Ferrell for his, well, conscious goofballness. These two actors clearly do not inhabit similar parts of the Hollywood jungle and yet somehow their complete abandonment of common-sense behavior brings them together to make them a believeable-ish couple. Between the flippy skirts Kidman wears and the lovey-cooner music on the soundtrack, romance, or something like it, even seems plausible. Add to that the varying degrees of entertaining thrown off by supporting cast — Jason Schwartzmann as Jack’s agent, Kristin Chenowith as Isabel’s neighbor, Shirley MacLaine as the actress playing Endora and Steve Carell in a fantastic cameo as Paul Lynde playing Uncle Arthur — and you’ve got at least half a solid movie.

Unfortunately, the other half would be a strong script that goes somewhere and does something, at least with the dialog if not with the actually story. Bewitched is all wind-up, no pitch with the final scenes sweet but vaguely unsatisfying.

If only some of this charming cookie dough had spent a little more time in the oven, this potentially excellent dessert of a movie wouldn’t seem so half-baked.

 
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