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Hollywood hocus-pocus

So they're remaking something. What else is new?

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Bewitched
Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman in "Bewitched."

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Eye on Entertainment
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Nicole Kidman

(CNN) -- "Bewitched," a feature film based on the '60s TV series, comes out this weekend.

And yes, the culture is going down the toilet, as it does every time the big Hollywood studios remake some old baby boomer boob tube friend, such as "S.W.A.T." or "The Brady Bunch" or "Charlie's Angels" or "The Beverly Hillbillies" or "Starsky & Hutch" or "The Montefuscos." (OK, so they haven't gotten to that one yet.)

Pardon me if I yawn. When has Hollywood ever had lots of fresh ideas?

From the beginning, the studios have optioned books, plays, musicals, news stories and even individual songs ("Ode to Billie Joe," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia") to turn into filmed entertainment. They've cannibalized characters, remade classics, churned out sequels.

Sometimes the films work better than the originals. Sometimes you're better off with the source material.

If there's a problem with turning TV shows into movies, it's usually that the films are lazy. The studios figure that you already love the characters, so why bother with such appendages as plot, depth and good writing? With rare exceptions -- "The Fugitive" comes to mind -- it's easier to plop the characters into a situation that would be familiar to any TV Land fan. The film sells itself.

But then, that's generally true of the "written"-for-the-screen Hollywood movies nowadays, too. Especially during the summer, when car explosions and pop-culture references substitute for action and genuine wit.

So here comes "Bewitched," and it's that rare TV show-movie that tries to do something new. See, it's a movie about a studio wanting to remake the TV series -- except it stumbles on an actual witch for the Samantha Stevens role.

Does hilarity ensue? Eye on Entertainment twitches its nose.

Eye-opener

Nicole Kidman, who last year made "The Stepford Wives" -- a film remake of a film based on a book -- plays Isabel Bigelow, a witch trying to go mortal. Will Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, who's been cast as Darrin Stevens in a new TV version of "Bewitched."

Jack sees Isabel and decides she'd be a perfect Samantha. Of course, he doesn't know that she is a perfect Samantha.

Kidman and Ferrell are joined by Michael Caine as Isabel's rakish father Nigel, Shirley MacLaine as Endora and Steve Carell as Uncle Arthur.

Early reviews have given filmmaker Nora Ephron, who co-wrote the script with her sister Delia, compliments for trying to put a spin on a movie-sitcom plot. But most have added that the movie falls apart when, toward the end, it turns into a sitcom itself, jettisoning whatever skewed ideas it had for a conventional romantic comedy third act.

But then, that part's just standard Hollywood movie magic.

"Bewitched" opens Friday.

On screen

  • "Herbie: Fully Loaded" revives the Volkswagen Beetle that carried Dean Jones, Ken Berry and Helen Hayes to excellence. This time the ol' Love Bug enters the NASCAR circuit with Lindsay Lohan, who plays the daughter and sister of racers. The film, which also stars Michael Keaton (!) and Matt Dillon (!!) opened Wednesday.
  • Herbie will not be making a guest appearance in "Land of the Dead," which -- almost certainly -- is George A. Romero's last entry in his "Dead" series. This time around, the zombies have taken over the world and whatever humans are left live in a walled city. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • For those who didn't get enough of "Average Joe" last year, a new season begins Tuesday. This version is subtitled "The Joes Strike Back." You've been warned. 8 p.m., Tuesday, NBC.
  • Sound waves

  • Fountains of Wayne's songwriters, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, are so good that their B-sides and rarities are better than 95 percent of most bands' official releases. Don't believe me? Try "Out-of-State Plates" (Virgin), a two-disc compilation that includes first-rate songs such as "The Girl I Can't Forget," "Killermont Street" and "Maureen," along with terrific one-offs such as "Chanukah Under the Stars" and the band's cover of Britney Spears' "... Baby One More Time." The latter proves once and for all that Max Martin is the latest in a line of Swedish pop geniuses -- and Fountains are American pop geniuses. Comes out Tuesday.
  • George Strait's new album, "Somewhere Down in Texas" (MCA), comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • "Miracle" (Delacorte), Danielle Steel's new book, comes out Tuesday. Publishers Weekly says, "Miraculous? Indeed. Miraculous that Steel ekes 200 pages of book out of 50 pages of recycled plot."
  • Video center

  • Relive those halcyon days of the 2004 presidential election with "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- Indecision 2004." It helps to laugh. Comes out Tuesday.
  • "The Pacifier," Vin Diesel's surprise hit about a military man who becomes a nanny, comes out Tuesday.
  • Few people remember nowadays, but in the late '60s and early '70s -- after her movie career had faded a bit -- Doris Day was in a TV series. The show, though it lasted five years, was a classic case of producers not being sure what to do with the star: first Day was a widow who moved back to the country, then she became a commuter in the second season, moved to San Francisco in the third season, and in the fourth she suddenly became Mary Tyler Moore, losing her family with no explanation and becoming a single gal. The first season -- the one set on the ranch -- comes out on DVD Tuesday.
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