U.S. Release Date: June 24, 2005
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Nora Ephron
Writer: Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron, Adam McKay
Producer: Bobby Cohen (executive), Nora Ephron, Lucy Fisher, Penny Marshall, Douglas Wick
Composer: George Fenton
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Carell
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity)

The Ephrons' Remake Belittles Original Series
by Scott Holleran

Taking the twinkle out of an infectious television comedy, sisters Nora and Delia Ephron do for ABC's series Bewitched(1964-1972) what they did for Walter Matthau in Hanging Up: they belittle a legend's basic virtues. Writer and director Nora (Sleepless in Seattle) and co-writer Delia (The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants) have no idea what made Samantha Stephens twitch.

First, they turn Sam into an airhead, played by Nicole Kidman, who imitates Meg Ryan impersonating Marilyn Monroe. When the pretty witch sets down, changing a rental sign to suit her tastes, she conveys entitlement, not the empowerment that was the essence of Elizabeth Montgomery's characterization. Second, they eliminate her wickedly sarcastic mother, Endora (Shirley MacLaine's replica barely registers a zap let alone a zinger), draining the premise of its primary mother-daughter conflict, and, third, they downsize Samantha's hubby, Darrin—an easily riled, virile businessman who lusts for his wife—into a marshmallow (Will Ferrell).

On the show, Sam, as she was affectionately known, was a lively, knowing sex symbol—not the limp doll found in Miss Kidman's portrayal. She waged magic wand wars with her snob witch-mother (Agnes Moorehead) over her new husband (Dick York), whom she adored. Sam's hocus pocus involved such characters as Dr. Bombay, Larry and Louise Tate and Esmerelda and, as a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stephens exuded enough sparks for the Fourth of July. None of that—especially Sam's struggle for independence from her family—is in this version.

It should be explained that, in a framing device that takes one far from the original, Miss Kidman does not quite play Samantha. She is Isabel, a witch like Sam in strictly superficial terms—she wants to live like a mortal. Her resemblance to Miss Montgomery gains the attention of a movie star (Ferrell), who is trying to make a comeback by playing Darrin on a remake of the series. Ferrell's shallow actor, figuring he can outshine a nobody and not knowing she's a witch, taps Isabel for the role.

Isabel promptly and predictably falls for the actor until it dawns on her that he is using her. Meek Isabel abruptly turns into a piranha, exacting feminist revenge by turning Ferrell's pompous schmuck into a bigger moron than he already is. She enlists help from a coven of man-haters including Aunt Clara, an irritating neighbor—not Gladys Kravitz, who appears briefly as a prop to promote the sequel, which one hopes never happens—and a spinsterish girl geek who works on the TV show.

Miss MacLaine's Gambit co-star, Michael Caine, pops in as Isabel's father but he's more like an older, tamer Austin Powers than the series' debonair divorced dad, played by Maurice Evans. Bewitched bags another remake bait and switch, promising the original's sharp, playful humor while delivering lame jokes, insider references and a couple of romantic leads dumber than one of Aunt Clara's doorknobs.

For full disclosure, Nora or Delia Ephron movies trigger this writer's gag reflex, though Mike Nichols' Silkwood, which Nora wrote with Alice Arlen, is a compelling character drama. The prospect of a decent take on the original series—which was a clever romp with clean, crisp lines—was irresistible. But the Ephron sisters' overbearing humor smothers the romance as usual and their shrill romanticism is cartoonish. When the would-be Darrin and Samantha briefly knock off the nonsense and make some magic, slow dancing to Frank Sinatra, it's as false as George Washington's teeth. Bewitched, absent Samantha's something extra, is missing what made it magical.

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