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Dear Elizabeth Montgomery: 

How's the afterlife treating you? I am fine. Today I went swimming and ate chicken on a stick. But enough about my summertime frolicking --- I thought someone should let you know that the powers-that-be have gotten around to retooling Bewitched for the big screen. You're not going to like what they've done, and neither will anyone else.

Rather than doing a full-on remake of the revered TV show you starred in, director Nora Ephron decided to try a little celluloid origami. In the film version of Bewitched, Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell, clearly in over his head), a movie actor on a downward slide, is tapped to star in an updated TV version of Bewitched. His search for an unknown to play the role of Samantha leads him to Isabel (the profoundly overrated Nicole Kidman), whose adept nose-wriggling stops him in his tracks.

Jack doesn't know it, but his discovery actually makes for a perfect Samantha. In a case of art imitating life, Isabel is a witch who has recently dropped into Los Angeles, Mary Poppins style, to pursue her dream of living as a mortal. Her skirt-chasing father (Michael Caine) often pops up --- literally --- to needle her about her new way of life, but Isabel commits to the project because she's thoroughly smitten with Jack's mortal ways (i.e., he's a train wreck).

If the plot sounds sort of confusing, it is. Someone who has never seen TV Bewitched might enjoy movie Bewitched, but there may not be many people in that category since it's unclear whether the movie's ad campaign extended to other planets or under rocks.

The rest of the movie unfolds exactly as you would imagine, with misunderstandings, revelations, and appearances by other beloved Bewitched characters like the perpetually flummoxed Aunt Clara and the grating Uncle Arthur (played by Steve Carell, one of The Daily Show's three former fake newsmen in this movie). Sadly, however, no sign of Dr. Bombay.

You're probably busy playing Boggle with Cervantes, Randy Rhoads, and Darrin No. 2, but I'm bothering you with this because your spirit looms large here. The film makes the mistake of showing clips of your Samantha, who thoroughly outclasses Isabel (and Kidman, for that matter) and reminds the audience why everyone remembers you so fondly. Samantha is also the onscreen inspiration for Isabel, who wasn't allowed to watch Bewitched as a child (an affront to witchery, according to her dad) but now basically operates under the philosophy "WWSD?" (I can answer that: She would turn the master print of this film into a toad).

Be warned that Kidman's take on a witch coveting a mortal life will have you doing 360s in your pine box. I was impressed, however, with her commitment to the role. DeNiro gained 50 pounds for Raging Bull, Carrey uncapped his tooth for Dumb and Dumber, and Kidman apparently got a partial lobotomy in order to play the clueless Isabel. But it's possible she was de-brained sometime earlier, which would explain a number of things, including saying yes to this movie.

It's a shame, too, because on paper, the cast of Bewitched is a formidable roster, including Jason Schwartzman as Jack's unctuous agent and scene-stealing Shirley MacLaine as the hammy has-been who plays Endora on the TV show. And why would anyone hire David Alan Grier and not take full advantage of his David Alan Grier-ness? Fines should be levied against Ephron for wasting this kind of talent.

Another effective barometer to indicate the quality of a film is the musical selections, which in Bewitched were as subtle as a sledgehammer. The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" came barreling out of the speakers after Isabel realized she had been hoodwinked, and REM's "Everybody Hurts" was used to drive home the fact that someone on screen was sad. I'm not kidding.

The one positive aspect to going to see Bewitched was the five previews preceding the feature (especially the trailer for Rent, which was downright rousing). On the off chance you're currently haunting any Hollywood types, try to scare them into stringing together two hours of movie previews and releasing that. A preview usually contains a film's best scenes as well as the entire plot, and it would save us all much time and money.

I don't normally take the time to hip dead celebrities to the inevitably lackluster remakes of their TV shows, so if the guy who played Boss Hogg is expecting a missive from me about the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie, please tell him to go to hell, if he's not there already.

Thank you!

Dayna

Bewitched (PG-13) is playing at Brockport Strand, Canandaigua Theatres, Cinema Theater, Cinemark Tinseltown, Culver Ridge Cinemas, Eastview Mall 13, Geneseo Theatres, Henrietta 18, Pittsford Cinema, Vintage Drive-In.

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