Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead

Now playing: ‘Bewitched’

General Audiences: C+
Twitchy-nosed Nicole Kidman and comic Will Ferrell team up in an effort to rekindle that old black magic from the TV-show graveyard. Needle on the laugh meter didn’t move nearly as much as it should have. Nothing objectionable for adults. 

Family Audiences: C- 
Older children won’t be spellbound by this witch story within a witch story. However, old fans of the TV show will relish the trip down memory lane in spite of the warts of this version. Rated PG-13 for some language, including sex and drug references and partial nudity (Will Ferrell naked except for a strategically placed blur). 

Let’s be honest. Whenever Hollywood has the audacity to take a beloved TV sitcom and turn it into a movie, our expectations tend to be unreasonable. 

Yes, most everyone enjoys a trip down memory lane. But if we expect the movie to be a better-, bigger-than-life version of the original, that’s not fair. Originality is a hard act to follow. It’s like telling a joke at an important business meeting and messing up the punch line. Your associates may manage a polite snicker, but they don’t laugh out loud.

Bewitched is a serviceable light comedy, but it could have been much more. 

What made the television series so popular was Samantha’s use of witchcraft to remove the obstacles thrown at her by life’s everyday challenges. The lead characters, husband-and-wife Samantha and Darren, were regularly confounded by unexpected consequences from well-intentioned magic or interference from meddling relatives casting spells. The fun was waiting to see how mortal man and witch would save Darren’s job and their marriage. 

Bewitched the movie lacks the simple story line that was the staple of its television predecessor and instead relies too heavily on Will Ferrell’s comic genius to save a bemused and bewildering film from being burned at the stake. 

Samantha has been replaced by Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman), a good witch newly arrived in Los Angeles, determined to live out a quiet life in a cute cottage surrounded by flowers and a picket fence without the use of magic. She wants to marry a kind mortal man to play house with. Kidman’s character speaks with such a low, wispy voice we hardly know she’s in the picture. Yet she does have what it takes to sniff out notice from Mr. Right. 

When she twitches her nose at a stack of books in the local bookstore, Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a semi-famous actor in need of a hit movie, finds the perfect, get this, “Samantha” for his upcoming film “Bewitched,” a remake of the original television show. Jack sweeps Samantha off her feet, broom and all, by promising to make her a star.

However, mindful of the expendability of actors playing Darren, he helps write a script making Samantha’s character a supporting role. Romantic complications unfold, spells are cast and Isabel’s family members begin popping up everywhere. 

Michael Caine plays Isabel’s warlock and debonair father Nigel. Caine is perfectly suited for his role, commanding center stage in the film’s comic highlight. 

As Isabel glides down a supermarket aisle, she suddenly hears Nigel’s voice from a can of Green Giant vegetables. The camera zooms in to the superimposed moving face of a jolly green Nigel lecturing Isabel for hanging up her broom in exchange for “the normal life.” 

To the audience’s evident delight, he continues to badger her from other condiments in the store aisles.

Such meaty scenes are missing for actress Shirley Maclaine, who plays the role of Isabel’s movie mother Endora. Maclaine’s talents are wasted in the few brief moments we see her fumbling for relevancy.

Unfortunately, the same disappointment occurs when Isabel’s witchy aunt and uncle make appearances that are too brief to develop any kind of comic chemistry. They could have been juicy complements to a show originally studded with fruitcake characters. 

If you’re looking for a light, nostalgic comedy (heavy on the light) you won’t be disappointed. If your expectations are more demanding, just wait for the movie versions of The Dukes of Hazard, Get Smart and I Dream of Jeannie coming your way soon.