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(2005) ** Pg-13
98 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Nora Ephron. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman.

In Bewitched—an oddball reinvention of the 1960s sitcom—Nicole Kidman tells the ubiquitous Will Ferrell, "I think the fact that you're a hopeless mess is very refreshing," but critics are not so charitable about bad movies. Nora and Delia Ephron co-wrote this postmodern Bewitched, and though it's sort of creative, it's also haphazard and disorienting. Even by picture's end, you'll be asking, "Who are these people, and what's going on?"

Kidman plays Isabel, a real witch in the real world who tires of being able to do anything and resolves to stop using magic. This choice corresponds to her discovery by Hollywood, which is plotting a sitcom revival of Bewitched. The gag is that a falling star named Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) has retooled the show to be all about Darren, the mortal husband to nose-wiggling witch Samantha. Wyatt's agent creates a monster by convincing his client to become the "sheriff of Ballsville" instead of the "Mayor of Pussytown." The clash of a witch and a egomaniacal star naturally leads to a variety of complications, including love.

Ferrell's amusing in full-blown manic mode, but as the years wear on, Kidman continues to prove that she must choose her projects much more delicately. She has the glacial glamour of a Hitchcock blonde and she can play spitfire notes of hysteria and hostility in the right black comedy (To Die For). Affecting a breathy voice and head-in-the-clouds naivete, the Kidman of Bewitched has her moments, insisting each bit of self-satisfying act-one magic (like instantly hooking up her entertainment center) is "my absolute last thing" and pouting with her no-nonsense father (Michael Caine). Like the plot, though, Kidman gets lost quickly, and Isabel's eventual self-actualization feels like a pulled punch.

The Ephron sisters toy with the notion that Hollywood is riddled with witches or, in other words, people used to getting everything they want (Isabel tells her father, "Your life is total instant gratification," but he calls her pot on calling his kettle black). Director Nora also has some fun with a jazzy lounge-swinger chic style meant to evoke the show's sixties oeuvre, but nothing makes any sense outside of the basic plotline of two selfish people getting outside of themselves and falling in love.

If Bewitched was fiction and Elizabeth Montgomery was an actress, is the existence here of an Aunt Clara and Uncle Arthur (both of whom bear striking resemblances to their TV forebears) meant to be a coincidence or a signal that Samantha was always real? These are questions with which the blithely phony Bewitched won't be bothered. Carole Shelley's Clara is a hoot, but the oft-foreshadowed, back-loaded appearance of Farrell's Anchorman co-star Steve Carell as a deus-ex-machina Arthur completely derails the picture (Carell's grotesquely stiff Paul Lynde impression doesn't help).

Caine, as Kidman's warlock father, and Shirley MacLaine, as the diva cast to play Endora, add value, though both are effectively crowded to the margins. Whenever the story fizzles, the Ephrons add a new character, a montage, or a popular song to artificially raise the audience's spirits (Sinatra's "Witchcraft" and Steve Lawrence's version of the "Bewitched" theme, natch). At one point, the story basically halts for a romp-around-the-studio montage, which is good for a smile, but bad for coherent story development. Bewitched flails around then fails to stick its landing.

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