Jun 29, 2005 at 12:00 am

Nora Ephron's new TV remake/showbiz spoof is set in a fantastical Hollywood where certain actors have magical powers, which they use to make other, less suspecting actors fall in love with them against their will and better judgment. Any similarity to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes is purely unintentional. Despite a comic-gold cast and would-be satirical plot, it's clear within 15 minutes or so of Bewitched
that it's just as toothless and lame as most boob-tube to big-screen conversion attempts.

Gestating for years and suffering nearly a dozen rewrites, the project has seen so many different names attached, you'd think it was a dog-eared library copy of The Da Vinci Code. When writer-director Ephron got hold of it, she decided to inject an unhealthy dose of fashionable insider references, and the simple tale of a harried businessman and his spell-casting wife became the conflicted, ill-conceived meta-comedy that's unraveling in theaters this week.

The story — co-written by Ephron's sister, Delia — tries to take the very concept of a remaking a TV sitcom to the next level, opening with the egotistical superstar Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) desperate for a small-screen hit after his last flop. "You look like Don Johnson, but in a bad way," notes his agent Richie (Jason Schwartzman). Demanding an unknown he can easily upstage, Jack runs across Isabel (Nicole Kidman), a ditzy, frazzled naïf who just happens to be a real-life witch, complete with a dorky broom. Like the character she has to play, Isabel is desperate to fall in love with a "mortal," but when she learns of Jack's backstabbing, their budding romance is threatened. Or is it?

A more appropriate question might be, "Who cares?" Ferrell scores some points early on, riffing with Schwartzman on the culture of Hollywood power players. But as soon as the manic SNL alum shares the screen with the vacant, open-mouthed Kidman, the movie is a dud. Her performance might work in a better, frothier movie, but the casting of the two leads is like oil and water — or cotton candy and sardines.

Still, it's the script that really reeks of desperation. The Ephron sisters repeatedly write themselves into corners: Isabel's ability to turn back time allows the movie to explore any pointless tangent it wants without having to think through any of them. When she casts a love spell on Jack and then decides to reverse it after a half-hour of screen time, most in the audience will feel magically compelled to head for the theater exit.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].