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Strange Powers

"Bewitched" update casts old-fashioned spells.


Kidman (playing Isabel Bigelow, a real witch) finds herself cast as a witch in a television remake of "Bewitched," which leads to a romantic interest with male lead Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell). In love with a mortal for the first time, she decides to break with her powers and live like a regular girl next door, with neighbors who don't know she's a witch and embarrassing interruptions by her spell-casting family members.

It all sounds like the sweet stuff of an old TV show, and it's too bad it gets elbowed aside for sequence upon sequence of dated girl-power issues as Ephron and producer Penny Marshall go after what they must see as their target audience. This is reflected in Kidman's heroic Isabel, who, waking up after an undisclosed intimacy with Jack, says, "Something magical happened all by itself." We can only gather that our gals intended this movie to appeal to the all-powerful airhead.

All of Kidman's talents — except her pretty face — are wasted in this movie. At least someone wrote some good material for Ferrell (perhaps he did it himself), who saves us time and again from slicing our wrists with the edge of the nearest plastic soda top. Granted, Farrell's good lines are few and far between, but the guy is funny even during the bad ones, or when saying nothing. If you ignore the words during most of his monologues, you'll still laugh at the mannerisms — the funny faces, the body language. Farrell even makes picking up the check funny. He deserves better.

The movie crumbles around midpoint, about when you'd expect a '60s-TV-show-turned-feature-length-film to give way. Ephron has some fun until then, settling Kidman and Ferrell, zipping and zapping through a lengthy setup, while employing several sight gags and pratfalls. Then with a thunderous clap comes the inevitable realization that at some point we have to have an actual story. And there isn't one.

We could talk about episodic television being too flimsy for a movie, or ponder what made "Bewitched" of all those old shows seem so ripe for the picking in the first place. But that evidently was not the primary luncheon topic between high-powered moviemakers. We should talk instead about product placements, the real focus of this movie. The Coffee Bean is discussed by the characters twice. Kidman makes a brand-new Volkswagen Beetle appear in her garage. She takes a trip to the grocery store for Pete's sake, where Michael Caine (her warlock father) talks to her from Green Giant peas and Newman's Own popcorn.

A subtle candy bar or soda bottle here and there is one thing, but when product placements get this obvious and redundant, they are distracting. It makes one yearn for the good old days. Products were placed then too, but at least they waited to trot them out during commercials. (PG-13) **

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