Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) is a witch who doesn't want to be a witch anymore. To that end, she flies down on her broomstick to a little house in Los Angeles she likes, makes sure she can buy it using her special powers, and then vows that will be the final occasion she does so, settling in for a normal, magic-free life. However, when she is making her way around the store, her father Nigel (Michael Caine) appears and tries to persuade her to change her ways back to what they were. She is adamant that she has made the correct decision and now all she wishes for is to fall in love, for real...
"Real" being a tricky concept in this, the Nora Ephron reimagining of the classic sixties sitcom Bewitched, For some reason making a straightforward, ha ha she's a witch while her husband isn't comedy was not enough for Nora, so she recruited her sister Delia Ephron to retool the original into some high concept nightmare so lofty that by the end it had toppled right over and landed flat on its face. The film had suffered through a bunch of problems before it finally made into these hands, and found a bunch more when it turned out nobody was really interested in their oh so arch revision of what had been perfectly simple.
Yet it doesn't play arch, it deliberately goes for cutesy and dumb, as if it was reluctant to acknowledge how clever-clever the set-up was. This was particularly uncomfortable to watch in the case of Kidman, an intelligent actress required to play her character as an airhead, who knows so little about life in the "real" world that you wonder if she's been brought up in a strict religious community which did not allow such things as televisions, or even love. We don't find out much about where Isabel has hailed from at all, or why if she is so naive, her father (Caine underplaying to the point of despair) should be so worldly wise - where on earth do these witches and warlocks fit into society?
They can have everything they want with a twiddle of the fingers or a pull of the ear, but still Isabel is childishly simple when it comes to any self awareness, never mind awareness of anything else. She more like a fairy tale princess than a witch, and when she gets a job it is as another fantasy figure: as a witch on a sitcom. A sitcom remake of Bewitched, no less. Yes, Isabel is actually playing Samantha, the Elizabeth Montgomery role from what this was supposed to be a remake of in the first place, fatally transplanted out of common or garden suburbia and into the dreamland of Hollywood, meaning that the only people who could relate to the story now would be those in the movie business.
So if that was a misreading of the original, nothing else could go wrong, could it? Well, this was meant to be a comedy but when the funniest moments arrive when you see clips of the old black and white version on TVs within the movie, you can recognise that comparisons are not going to be flattering. Struggling manfully to bring some laughs is Will Ferrell, as the movie star Jack Wyatt who is trying to revive his career by moving to the small screen; he throws in a little improv as usual, but these bits don't really fit with the rest of the tone. Mind you, what does? We are asked to believe that Jack would pick Isabel off the street because she can wiggle her nose, and then have her star alongside him, as all the while she behaves just the right side of moronic, but only just. They fall in love, Shirley MacLaine shows up to play the sitcom's mother-in-law who is also a witch in a subplot which goes nowhere, Steve Carell appears to do a bad Paul Lynde impersonation, Isabel rewinds the action halfway through to change it even though it ends up exactly the same... it's insanely overthought and never remotely magical. In the future, some may doubt it even existed. Music by George Fenton.