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Bewitched (2005)

Movie star Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) has hit the skids — his last movie, Last Year in Katmandu, cost $130 million and grossed one-point-six. It was so bad, in fact, that Jack's manager Ritchie (Jason Schwartzman) notes "it's the only film not to sell any DVDs." Unsure where to turn in the fickle world of Tinseltown after a major flop, Jack agrees to take his A-list reputation to the small-screen — television, commonly regarded as the first refuge of has-been movie stars. And the project he's pitched has potential: a retooling of the 1960s rerun-staple "Bewitched." Only this time, Jack insists that his part, that of Samantha's mortal husband Darrin, be the show's central character, while the supernatural, nose-twitching Sam should be a complete unknown (serving two purposes: giving Jack more of the spotlight, as well as a convenient scapegoat if the show fails). By chance, Jack meets his perfect Samantha in a bookstore. Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) is a pretty, young, unassuming blonde who Jack pursues to be his Samantha, despite the fact that she has no acting experience. What he doesn't realize is that he has plenty of experience with the hocus-pocus — Isabel is a bona fide witch, although she's recently abandoned her life of easy pleasures to take up residence in the suburbs, where she hopes to have normal girlfriends and, someday, a devoted husband. In yet another big-studio reimagining of a popular American television show, Nora and Delia Ephron's Bewitched (2005) fails to capitalize on the natural audience goodwill they can expect by appropriating an established brand (including the series' signature logo), although in this case one can't fault them for not trying something different. Rather than simply updating an established television sitcom into a contemporary setting complete with some arch meta-casting, they at least adopt a self-aware approach by making the television series part of the story itself. Even the meta-casting is good, with Michael Caine as Isabel's father Nigel, Shirley MacLaine as her mom Endora, and Steve Carell as Uncle Arthur. Where Bewitched stumbles — and badly — is with its two leads. Since the TV marriage of Samantha and Darrin can't be the central focus of the film, the Ephrons opt for a conventional rom-com plot: Girl seeks boy, and then boy seeks girl. However, they'd be hard-pressed to find two more uncharasmatic characters than Isabel Bigalow and Jack Wyatt. As Isabel/Samantha, Nicole Kidman should have turned Bewitched into a $100 million hit, but she's so breathy and simple and temperamental that she seems more like a character sketch than a flesh-and-blood person, even if she isn't mortal. Meanwhile, Will Ferrell emphasizes sketch comedy over character — the childish Jack Wyatt is a funny invention with his Hollywood insecurity and two-faced antics, but he's also much better suited for five minutes on "Saturday Night Live" than as a rom-com lead. It's the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them — and considering director Nora Ephron's distinguished filmography in this genre, Bewitched plays like a long, occasionally amusing missed opportunity. Sony's "Special Edition" DVD release of Bewitched features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English and French, with English and French subtitles). Extras include a commentary track with Nora Ephron, as well as the featurettes "Casting a Spell: Making Bewitched" (23 min.), "Bewitched: Star Shots" with eight brief segments (during which the co-stars relentlessly compliment each other without any irony whatsoever), and "Why I Loved Bewitched" (8 min.). Also included are six deleted scenes (with a "play all" option), a "Witch Vision" trivia track, a trivia game, and previews for other Sony titles. Keep-case.

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