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Review: 'Bewitched' has some magic

Film ephemeral but enjoyable

By Paul Clinton

Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell in "Bewitched."


Nicole Kidman
Will Ferrell

(CNN) -- The new word in Hollywood for remaking an old movie or television show is "reimagining." That sounds so much better than "recycling" -- or "cinematic grave-robbing."

Unfortunately, a really good remake -- excuse me, reimagining -- is as rare as a Hollywood agent who does charity work on weekends.

The big-screen version of "Bewitched" is one of those exceptions. It works.

And the main reason it works is the way that director Nora Ephron and her co-writer sister Delia approached the story. Instead of simply doing an updated version of the original TV series, they've set the movie in the present day, where a studio has decided to do a remake -- yes, damn it, a remake -- of "Bewitched," the long-running (1964-72) ABC sitcom starring Elizabeth Montgomery.

But the twist is, the show has been retooled to center on Samantha's mortal husband, Darrin, played by a narcissistic, washed-out movie star trying to make a comeback. Moreover, unbeknownst to the producers, they've cast a real witch to play the role of Samantha.

The result is not only an homage to the original TV show, it's also a gentle -- and at times hilarious -- spoof of Hollywood.

Nicole Kidman is well cast as Isabel, a young witch desperate to lead a normal life without witchcraft. When Kidman won an Academy Award for playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," much ado was made over her prosthetic nose. This time it's her real nose getting the attention, due to its uncanny resemblance to Montgomery's -- right down to the ability to make it twitch on cue.

In an unlikely bit of casting, Will Ferrell plays opposite Kidman as Jack Wyatt, the over- confident and under-talented actor portraying Darrin. Determined to take center stage in the TV show, Jack goes in search of a nobody to play Samantha. He finds her in a book store on Sunset Boulevard. Attracted to the aforementioned nose, he convinces Isabel to audition for the role.

She's an inept mess until she's told to improvise playing a real witch trying to pass as a mortal. Naturally, she nails it. She also begins to fall in love with Jack, mistakenly thinking his overblown ego makes him the quintessential mortal with whom she can lead a normal life.

So Isabel tells Jack she's a real witch. And the trouble starts.

Light comedy

Shirley MacLaine adds some welcome touches as Endora.

Ephron wisely resists the temptation to burden the film with too many special effects, making the few CGI touches much more effective -- particularly a great bit with Isabel in a supermarket.

Kidman is usually drawn to material on the dark side, but her comedic skills are on full display in "Bewitched." She's without doubt one of the most versatile and accomplished actresses of her generation.

Unlike millions, I'm not a big fan of Farrell, but he delivers a well-contained performance as a total jerk who -- in the end -- turns out to be just an insecure guy with (of course) a heart of gold.

The film, already lighter than meringue, is not without its flaws. Both Michael Caine (as Isabel's rakish warlock father, Nigel) and Shirley MacLaine (as an aging diva selected to play "Bewitched" mother Endora) are criminally underused.

The two do take the opportunity to grab any scene they're in. Caine is charmingly dissolute and MacLaine gets the best line in the film: "Actors look normal, sometimes better than normal," she tells Isabel at one point. "But deep down, there is no deep down."

Carole Shelly does a nice turn as ditsy Aunt Clara and Steve Carell channels Paul Lynne playing Uncle Arthur. Also, Jason Schwartzman is a standout as Jack's sleazy manager.

The Ephron sisters have a knack for sparkling dialogue and they use it to great advantage in "Bewitched." Sure, like cotton candy, the film can be a little sticky sweet at times. Ultimately, however, it's an enjoyable summertime confection.

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