This modestly entertaining romantic-comedy, based on the old ’60s sitcom, is never quite half as funny as it should be. The basic premise (a washed-up, insecure movie star selects an unknown actress to play Samantha opposite his Darren in a remake of BEWITCHED) has potential, but instead of a biting satire of the entertainment industry, we get a sappy, fairly predictable love story.
Kidman is right on target as Elizabeth, the first-time actress who just happens to be a real witch, but Farrell mugs incessantly as Jack Wyatt. To some extent this is forgivable because it represents Wyatt’s scene-stealing antics, but after a while it starts to feel as if Farrell, not Wyatt, is the one who needs to be told to tone it down a notch.
Although the main love story between these two never generates much heat, there are several good scenes sprinkled throughout, many of them featuring the supporting cast: particularly Michael Caine as Elizabeth’s father and Shirley MacLaine as the diva playing Endora (Samantha’s mother) on the TV show; Carole Shelly (as Aunt Clara) and Steve Carell (as Uncle Arthur) also deserve honorable mention for recreating supporting characters from the original series.
The physical humor and sight gags often fall flat. On two occasions, Elizabeth reverses a magic spell by making time go backward — which the film illustrates by placing a Rewind Arrow at the bottom right hand corner of the screen (leaving one to wonder what witches did to reverse spells in the days before video).
The CGI is used sparingly, and although the brief moments of Elizabeth on her broom fly by too fast to register, a few of the other effects are quite excellent. The stand-out is Caine’s appearance stepping through an arch on the studio back lot — which two grips then pick up and move away, revealing that it was nothing but a painted backdrop!
Unfortunately, this kind of magic is in short supply. If everything else had been this fun, the film might have taken a place beside classics like BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE and I MARRIED A WITCH. Instead, it’s a series of tricks that never build to a climax: you enjoy some of the sleight-of-hand, but the filmmakers never manage to quite pull the rabbit out of the hat.