Bewitched may go down as the first movie about a fictional failed actor that creates a real-life failed actor. This hackneyed, hapless, and utterly useless redo of an overrated 1960s sitcom is excruciating to sit through for a dozen reasons. But nothing is more intolerable than the sight of Will Ferrell being hung out to dry by Nora Ephron, who shouldn’t be allowed to direct an elementary school Christmas pageant, much less a $100 million feature film. (How Ephron is allowed to keep collecting paychecks, after the unholy trinity of Mixed Nuts and You’ve Got Mail and Lucky Numbers, remains a mystery worthy of John Le Carré or at least Encyclopedia Brown.) She strands him in the middle of the sitcom frame and begs him to find the laughs in her barren, lazy screenplay, written with sister Delia, making him look not like a clown but a fool. You can’t locate what was never there, but he scrambles like a good little soldier nonetheless — yelling, pouting, dancing, and, finally, flailing about like a man who asked for a road map and received a sheet of paper bearing only the words “Fuck” and “You.” For once, the sweaty desperation that is fast becoming Ferrell’s trademark, if not albatross, looks palpably real; those beads of perspiration are of his own making, not a makeup man’s sprayed-on glisten.
You’d almost feel sorry for Ferrell if he wasn’t this close to wearing out his welcome, but one has little pity for the man carrying his own shovel into the cemetery. As Jack Wyatt, a self-absorbed jackass trying to resurrect a moribund career by playing Darrin in a Bewitched remake, Ferrell is playing Ferrell playing some variation of the characters he has done in Old School, The Ladies’ Man, Anchorman, and the recent Kicking & Screaming. He is doing sketch comedy (the movie has enough story to fill about twelve minutes, give or take eleven), this time with a brush as broad as Texas, and he will quickly discover how unforgiving the cinema’s canvas is to small-screen actors who try too hard to fill up the blank spaces.
Nicole Kidman, as real-life witch Isabel cast to play make-believe witch Samantha opposite Jack in this remake-within-a-remake, fares no better, but for entirely different reasons. If the Ephrons make Ferrell look like a schmuck, they reduce Kidman to the role of total idiot, and, sadly, she obliges, dashing one more dollop of the audience’s goodwill with yet another catastrophic offering of her own. Isabel, who apparently flew the short stick to school as a child, has no working function of the real world, and she asks inane questions (“What’s a dick?”) as though she’s a three-year-old just learning to speak in complete sentences. This, despite being hundreds of years old and being the daughter of Michael Caine’s Nigel, a charismatic womanizer who was world-weary when the world was still made of molten lava. Isabel can do anything with the tug of an ear, except, apparently, act like a woman who is almost forty.
Bewitched, though, is such an epic mess that Kidman and Ferrell stood no chance. Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston and the myriad other actors once attached to the project should thank their agents and warlocks at having been spared such a fate. (This remake has gone through dozens of writers and directors for more than a decade; apparently Columbia Pictures execs gave up trying to make something good and barreled ahead with the dreck on hand.) The Ephrons miss even the easiest opportunities for laughs, choosing to go with none when even one would have sufficed. Why, for instance, cast Shirley MacLaine as an aging famous actress named Iris Smythson appearing as Endora in the remake, when it would have been far funnier for MacLaine to actually play herself? And why only hint at the possibility that Iris is a real witch, rather than unleash her upon an ensemble in need of enchanting? As it is, the Ephrons finally ditch Caine and MacLaine altogether, setting them up as a couple and then abandoning them just when the movie is most in need of the jolt only two pros can bring to such an amateur production.
To complain that a remake of Bewitched is pointless is, well, futile; it’s certainly no more or less necessary than Sgt. Bilko or The Beverly Hillbillies or The Avengers, but when studios run out of ideas, there’s always TV Land to rape and pillage in order to fill the coffers. But it’s worse than just useless — Bewitched is a waste of time, a waste of money (not yours, one hopes), and a waste of people like Amy Sedaris (who shows up in the last scene as neighbor Gladys Kravitz) and The Daily Show‘s Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, the former as a writer who does little more than squint and smirk and the latter playing Paul Lynde playing Uncle Arthur in the only bearable and bubbly sequence the film can muster. A hex on everyone involved.