'Bewitched' is enchanting fare

A smart remake of the TV show is pleasant - for a short spell.

Nicole Kidman is not only a talented actress, she's also as cute as the proverbial button. Not all of her roles call on this quality - she's sexy in "Eyes Wide Shut," earthy in "The Human Stain," and tormented in "The Hours." But give her a chance to be flat-out adorable and she'll out-cute any other actress around.

"Bewitched" gives her that chance. Based on the TV sitcom that flourished from 1964 to 1972, it's about Isabel, a genuine witch who wants to abandon spells and become a normal person who cooks dinner, does laundry, and fusses about what color the living room is painted.

Sounds boring? You bet. To keep from backsliding, she decides a job would divert her now that she's given up witchery for suburbia.

Enter the story's hero, Jack, played by Will Ferrell, who's not particularly cute, but came close in "Elf" and "Kicking & Screaming." Jack is an actor whose lack of perceptible talent hasn't put a dent in his very perceptible ego. He's trying for a comeback with a new "Bewitched" series, giving the show an extreme makeover for the 21st century. He insists on an unknown to play his supernaturally gifted wife. Isabel gets the role, and the show's producers get a real witch portraying a character they still think is purely fictional.

If that sounds like a gimmicky premise, it is. It also recalls "Shadow of the Vampire," which was about a real vampire pretending he's just acting in the classic horror film he's agreed to make.

Director Nora Ephron doesn't try to make the premise plausible, just entertaining. She partly succeeds, although the movie is more effective in particular scenes than as a whole. Just when you think it's getting too silly to salvage, Isabel's warlock dad (Michael Caine) starts appearing on grocery-store labels to get her attention, and hey, it's funny.

The supporting cast includes Shirley MacLaine as a TV star, Jason Schwartzman as Jack's agent, and others. Their characters are one-dimensional, but the leads are only one-and-a-half-dimensional, so things balance out.

Add Frank Sinatra's voice on the soundtrack - singing, you guessed it, "Witchcraft" - and you have a romantic comedy that's pleasant, if not exactly spellbinding.

Rated PG-13; contains vulgarity.

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