The remaking of classic TV shows for the big screen appears to have hit a new low this summer: The buzzword is "reimagining," and fast on the heels of a jiving black version of The Honeymooners comes Bewitched, the not-quite-a-remake of the 1960s sitcom.
Bewitched 2005, as strenuously refashioned by director Nora Ephron (who co-scripted with her sister Delia), goes like this: Isabel (Nicole Kidman) is a witch who decides to live as a regular human. She meets hack actor Jack (Will Ferrell), who's playing "Darrin" in a TV remake of Bewitched. No sooner does Isabel twitch her nose (literally) then -- ping! -- she gets the role of "Samantha," America's favorite stay-at-home secret witch.
A witch pretending not to be a witch playing a witch pretending not to be a witch! It's a meta-exercise in pandering to the nostalgic couch potato, its pretense to media self-reflection barely disguising an anemic romantic comedy. Ephron extracts the non-problem of the TV show -- Darrin is cool with Sam being a witch -- and tweaks it to deliver the film's framing device: Can Jack really love Isabel, once he discovers she's a witch? (Only in Los Angeles is this revelation treated simply as another silly personal untruth.)
The remake-within-a-remake premise allows Ephron to load up the movie with clips of the TV show, reminding us that the former was a superior product. Kidman surely lacks Elizabeth Montgomery's coolness and the edge of her Samantha, a frustrated 1960s housewife. Instead Kidman tries out a breathy, baby-doll voice and kittenish act that is very ill-advised. And you either love Ferrell's bumbling, self-absorbed shtick or not, though he scores the film's funniest moment with a dog-related babble-fest.
You'll smile for the first reel, and thereafter check your watch. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine drop in as Isabel's dad and "Endora," though both roles are woefully underdeveloped. As Uncle Arthur, Steve Carrell tries hard, but the script seems to ask him to channel Paul Lynde, who portrayed Uncle Arthur on the original show. Lynde was his own demented self and should be spared the imitations.
Despite its magical and postmodern trappings, Bewitched is a typical Nora Ephron romantic comedy, complete with a blonde giggly heroine, pajamas and sweaters, a scene set in a bookstore, and a soundtrack with a predictable mix of coffee-shop rock, standards and cutesy witch songs ("Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" hits the trifecta). And, in 2005, it doesn't make any sense that a beautiful woman who could literally have anything at the snap of her fingers would want the tediousness of a non-magical life -- or why we would want to see some half-remake of an old television show.