BEWITCHED — ** — Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, slapstick violence, brief drugs, veiled nudity).
The movie "Bewitched" keeps showing clips and photos from the beloved 1960s TV sitcom, which starred the late Elizabeth Montgomery, reminding us that Montgomery and the original show are missed, and heightening the awareness that this film is so disappointing.
If it were an outright train wreck, you could dismiss "Bewitched" as simply another failed small-screen-to-big-screen adaptation. But its mediocrity suggests that all it would have taken is some more work to make a decent movie.
Will Ferrell stars as Jack Wyatt, a movie star whose once-promising career has gone south. He needs a hit, so he's signed on to star as Darren in a new TV remake of "Bewitched."
Jack's weaselly manager Ritchie (Jason Schwartzman) has convinced him to take creative control of the project. So Jack insists that the actress who plays Samantha should be a newcomer.
Enter Isabel Bigalow (Nicole Kidman), whom Jack meets in a bookstore. She's got the right nose "twitch" and is completely naive about showbiz dealings, so she seems like the perfect choice.
Unbeknownst to Jack, however, Isabel really is a witch who's trying to go "straight" as a mortal. She's also smitten with Jack. But her father Nigel (Michael Caine) frowns on his daughter's new life direction and career choice.
This lends a more creative spin on things than most TV adaptations offer. But director Nora Ephron doesn't really do anything else new with the material.
At one point, it even appears that she simply gives up on the script (which she co-wrote with her sister Delia) and completely turns one scene over to Ferrell, giving him free rein to improvise for several minutes. But this is not the kind of material where Ferrell going wild is a good thing. He runs roughshod over Kidman, and most of his ad-libs just aren't that funny. (Nor is the usually dependable Steve Carell, who does an awful Paul Lynde impression.)
Also, too many subplots are left unresolved or abandoned completely, such as the romance between Nigel and Iris Smythson (Shirley MacLaine), the actress playing the Endora role on the new show. The film could have used a lot more of them — especially since, unlike Ferrell and Kidman, Caine and MacLaine have great chemistry.
"Bewitched" is rated PG-13 for some vulgar sexual references and other questionable humor, scattered use of profanity, some slapstick violence, some brief drug content (references) and some veiled or "blurred" male nudity. Running time: 105 minutes.