Thursday, July 28, 2005

Review - Bewitched

When you consider the way cinema first reacted to the invention of television, the way it feared the competition the small screen would bring, there is a nice irony in the fact that TV now seems to be the major source of inspiration for desperate film producers. The studios’ feeding on the remains of long dead programmes has brought us big screen versions of Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, The Avengers, The Saint, Thunderbirds and we have The Dukes of Hazzard to look forward to later this year. The unifying factor among these remakes is the fact that they’ve generally been dreadful, with the filmmakers failing to realise that characters and plots which were barely strong enough to carry a 30 - 60 minute TV show can’t fill out a multi-million dollar Summer blockbuster.

So with this in mind we should at least applaud the makers of Bewitched for attempting something a little different. Instead of just doing a straight remake of the TV show, this new version of Bewitched is a film about a remake of the TV show. But while we salute their attempt to be different it’s impossible to escape the fact that Bewitched is an awful film.

Will Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, an egotistical, washed-up film star, who is hoping for a comeback with a starring role in the new TV series of Bewitched. Jack doesn’t want any talented or famous actresses stealing his limelight though, so he insists on hiring an unknown for the part of Samantha. The auditions don’t go well (it seems that not a single one of LA’s many aspiring actresses can wiggle their nose) and things are looking bleak until Jack bumps into Isabel and, after seeing her twitch her nose in the desired fashion, realises that she’s perfect for the part. However, little does Jack know that his new co-star is in fact a real witch.

Isabel has moved to LA to get away from the witching life and keeps promising her dad (Michael Caine) that she’ll stop using magic to get what she wants (although she can’t resist a little spell here and there to fix her television or tidy the house). She just wants to settle down to a normal person‘s life, and to find a man who wants and needs her for who she is. Isabel is naturally delighted when Jack chooses her for his new show, but when she realises that he’s cutting her lines to shift the attention onto himself she decides it’s time to resort to magic to get revenge.

Before it nose-dives into a sea of terrible plotting and dismal direction, Bewitched is actually pretty good fun for half an hour. The early scenes are snappy and fun with Kidman looking happier than you might expect in her role. Light comedy does not come easily to this actress, but here she appears more relaxed and seems to be having fun in the part. Her exchanges with Michael Caine, the best of which occurs in a supermarket, are highly enjoyable, as are her initial scenes with Ferrell, and the film maintains this early momentum right up to the point when Isabel decides to place a hex on Jack. Then it simply falls apart.

Let’s get things straight - Nora Ephron is not a good director. She has a certain skill as a screenwriter, and has definitely shown how adept she is in the romantic comedy genre, but she should have let somebody else call the shots behind the camera on this one. Bewitched required a director with a more savvy, cynical approach to make the most of this ‘TV show within a film’ material, but instead Ephron is hopelessly out of her depth. Her compositions are lifeless, her shifts in tone are jarring and her choice of music is thudding literal (the use of REM’s Everybody Hurts over a montage of Kidman and Ferrell looking morose is unforgivable). Any energy the film has is provided by the cast, especially Ferrell (who is funny when he’s allowed to cut loose, but seems straightjacketed for much of the film), but the momentum is destroyed by Ephron as she desperately attempts to force an unwieldy love story onto her fragile script.

It seems Ephron and her sister Delia (who co-wrote the screenplay) became overwhelmed by the concept of their story and simply lost sight of what the film was supposed to be in the first place. As a result, their script is littered with plot holes and strands of the story which are never explored. There is a hint that the actress playing Endora (Shirley MacLaine, on decent form) might be a witch herself, which doesn’t exactly make sense, but don’t worry to much about it because it’s swiftly dropped. The appearance of Uncle Arthur (a terrible waste of the talented Steve Carrell) is a damp squib as he’s shoehorned into the plot in the last ten minutes in a nonsensical role. Arthur could be a witch or a figment of another character’s imagination, we never find out and I’m not entirely convinced that Ephron was sure herself.

Ephron’s struggle with the fiction/reality barrier this premise presents continues until she finally gives up the ghost in the final third, and we simply wait for the film to limp to the climax. Bewitched is a mess, which no amount of nose-twitching could save. A waste of a decent premise and a talented cast which offers neither romance or comedy. Ephron chooses to accompany the end credits with Sting singing Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Alas, it’s not true. Every Little Thing She Does Is Tragic would be closer to the reality of Bewitched.