Isabel (Kidman, "The Others", "Moulin Rouge") is a nave (emphasis on `nave'), young witch who decides to move to the San Fernando Valley. She intends to give up witchcraft, to live a normal life, to become a real woman, with real problems, who falls for a mess-of-a-man who needs her. In walks Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a famous actor who, in an act of desperation, signs to do a television reworking of "Bewitched". In this version, Darrin is the central character and Jack wants to find an unknown to play Samantha. One day, at Book Soup, he spots Isabel and pleads with her to become his television wife. She falls for him and walks around doe-eyed until she realizes that he is merely trying to regain his star status. Isabel decides to get even and witchcraft is the only way.
Co-written and directed by Nora Ephron ("Lucky Numbers", "Sleepless in Seattle, "You've Got Mail"), the film is, unfortunately, on a par with all of her other efforts as a director - she didn't direct "Sleepless". In all of Ephron's films, she comes up with an interesting idea, casts good actors and then everything derails into a huge mess.
Apparently, the script for "Bewitched" has been in development for a decade. A decade! It shows. The finished film is so over developed it is almost incredible. They couldn't merely make a film version of the television show, with Kidman and Ferrell playing Samantha and Darrin, perhaps set in 2005, they had to make a film about actors in a new television version of the old television show. Worse yet, they have scenes of Kidman and Ferrell watching the old television show and then recreating the same scenes for the new show. Huh? What?
Because Kidman and Ferrell play two completely different characters, seemingly from different worlds, it never appears convincing when they start to fall in love. Ferrell's character, Jack Wyatt, is a typical stereotype of a conceited actor who is full of himself. Nothing original or interesting is done with the character. In one scene, Isabel does a little magic and Jack begins to spout gibberish instead of the lines he is supposed to say. With each take, new gibberish. This is exactly the same thing that Steve Carrel did so brilliantly in "Bruce Almighty". Carrel is a buddy of Ferrell and appears in the film as Uncle Arthur. So, not only is Farrell doing nothing new, he is rehashing the work of his friends? Has it already come to this?
Kidman's Isabel is too nave and too waifish to be interesting or believable. Her character has a softness to her voice, throughout the entire film, which makes her, oh, okay, unbearable. Kidman has made two comedies, in two years, both of which have been terrible. Remember last summers "The Stepford Wives"? She later blamed the failure of that film on a script that wasn't ready. I wonder what or who will blamed for the failure of "Bewitched"?
The failure has to be blamed on Ephron. After we meet the characters, the director is so intent on manipulating the story, to get to the point when Ferrell will act funny, or Kidman will get to use a little magic, that nothing seems natural or organic. Ferrell is the more successful of the two, but again, he doesn't do anything original. In one scene he tells someone "Make me 20 cappuccinos and bring me the best one". It's funny, but we've seen it before. Everything about the story is forced and unconvincing.
Then, for some reason, the story of Isabel's life starts to have parallels to Samantha's in "Bewitched". Both have an Aunt Clara (Carole Shelley) and Isabel's appears to be exactly like the one in the old television show. Huh? Why? It seems like they decided at some point to switch gears. We don't want to make a straight forward remake. Oh, wait. Yes, we do.
The film has a great cast. But they are wasted. Michael Caine plays Isabel's dad, Shirley McClaine plays a stage actress who is hired to play Endora, Steve Carrel plays Uncle Arthur. Jason Schwartzmann is Jack's agent. Of these, Schwartzmann is the most successful, perhaps because we expect the least from him. Michael Caine basically pops up in a bunch of different places, on a frozen food box, on a can of peas, walking out of a painted backdrop. The turn is amusing, but isn't as integral to the plot as it needed to be. MacLaine is wasted as Iris Smythson, a stage actress hired to play Endora. Her first appearance as Endora, as they are taping is funny. But then it seems as though her character was forgotten, as though they didn't know what to do with her.
After Isabel gets the job on the television show, she forms a little clique with a PA from the show and her neighbor (Kristin Chenoweth). The three sit around and talk about revenge, putting hexes on people, etc. The idea becomes such a labored, mixed effort that it is amazing it wasn't cut out. Almost. Until you realize the rest of the film is as mixed an effort. Then it all makes perfect sense.
Ephron is a skilled writer. But she apparently needs someone else to direct her material, to make it stronger, more consistent and more viable. To raise questions about scenes and characters that don't work. To make the material work. In "Bewitched", she doesn't have that.