No magic in Bewitched
By Lady Liberty
Herbie: Fully Loaded
* out of ****
It's been a very long time since I was young enough to enjoy a traditional Disney movie (to be fair, I was very young when I determined I was too old for that kind of thing). I do recall that I actually liked such films as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes when I was about 7 or 8 years old, but such movies have held little appeal to me since then. But the fact that we're currently enduring a real heat wave where I live combined with the lack of air conditioning in my home meant that I was prepared to endure almost anything just to sit in the darkened coolness of a well-chilled theatre. Even with such a compelling motive, it was all I could do not to walk out on Herbie: Fully Loaded.
For Herbie: Fully Loaded, Disney brought back the original Herbie (well, probably not the same 1963 Volkswagen beetle, but one that looked just like it) much the worse for wear. In the years since he was in his prime and enjoying the company of such actors as Dean Jones, Herbie's undergone some hardships that result in his present day delivery to a wrecking yard. Meanwhile, Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) has just graduated from college. In the few weeks she has before beginning a new job — and life — in New York City, she returns home to spend a little time with her family.
Maggie's father is Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton), the son of a famous stock car racer. He's carried on the family tradition with his ownership of the Peyton Racing Team for which is son, Ray Peyton, Jr. (Breckin Meyer) is the driver. The younger Peyton has little in common with his grandfather, however, and struggles to keep his car on the track let alone to bring it home in any kind of a winning position. Maggie loves cars and racing, but her father has a different plan for her life. All is going according to that plan until Maggie tells her dad that her best friend got a car for graduation. Though Ray doesn't have much money, he determines to at least make some kind of a gesture in Maggie's direction to show her his pride in her accomplishments. And that's how the two end up at the very wrecking yard where Herbie is scheduled for demolition.
Of course, Maggie's not thrilled, but she plays along because she knows her dad is doing his best. It is, of course, entirely predictable that Maggie and Herbie will somehow end up together, and they do. Herbie's in rough shape by any standard, though, so Maggie's first order of business is to take the car to a local garage where it just so happens that an old high-school friend of hers is in charge. Kevin (Justin Long) has apparently had something of a crush on Maggie for some time, and so it doesn't take much to convince him that he's going to work to restore Herbie to drivable condition.
During the course of a test drive, Maggie, Kevin, and Herbie end up at an auto flea market. While they're there, Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), a NASCAR champion, shows up to promote his new video game and to sign autographs. When Herbie sees Trip's stock car, he single-mindedly determines he's going to take it on. And when Herbie manages to win an impromptu race, Maggie and Kevin are astounded even as Trip vows to get revenge. But will anybody have a chance to resolve anything when Maggie's dad finds out she's been racing against his express orders? And will Kevin ever have the courage to let Maggie know how he feels about her? Most importantly of all, does Herbie still have what it takes?
If you had to pause to think even a moment to answer any of those questions, that's only because you haven't tried to sit through Herbie: Fully Loaded. This may be the single most predictable movie I've ever seen. Supposedly a comedy, it's not funny; theoretically containing some suspenseful moments, the outcome of any given circumstance is never in doubt. Lindsay Lohan is okay (I'd have to give her better marks as an actress than her teenage competition in the theatres at present, Hilary Duff, who stars in The Perfect Man), and so are Justin Long and Breckin Meyer. Michael Keaton seems a little embarrassed to be here which is okay because he probably is (and who could blame him?). Matt Dillon, though, is actually quite good as he visibly has fun playing his bad guy character in an over-the-top sort of way. The effects, too, are largely okay. The thing that makes this movie so bad is the one thing that could also have lifted it up to make it better, and that's a truly abysmal script.
I realize that Herbie: Fully Loaded is aimed at a fairly young crowd, so I expected a clean and wholesome setting. I have a boss with a 7 year-old son, and a co-worker with an 8 year-old who often ask me if certain movies are okay for their kids. In the case of this movie, I'd have to say no. That's not because it's not just as clean and wholesome as expected, but rather because 7 and 8 year-olds are too old for this movie. I was truly dismayed to find it aimed right about the intellectual level of the average 4 year-old! Sure, it's okay to take your older kids, but despite nothing objectionable on screen, I guarantee you'll object to at least one thing: the restlessness of your bored kids as they try to sit through an hour and a half of Herbie's unfunny antics.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Herbie: Fully Loaded is rated G which, in movie ratings vernacular, means it's suitable for all audiences. If you want me to be honest, though — and would you be reading this if you didn't? — I'm not sure this movie is really suited to any audience at all. It's just that bad.
* out of ****
As a general rule, I'm not particularly fond of remakes, especially movie remakes of old TV shows. But the premise behind Bewitched was different. Instead of a remake, it was a movie about a remake. That was just different enough that I thought it had possibilities, especially when I learned that the twist in the story was that the woman hired to play the witch was — unbeknownst to everyone — a real witch. Unfortunately, the premise was just about the only good thing Bewitched had to offer.
The remake of the Bewitched TV series comes about in the movie when movie star Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) falls on hard times after a couple of box-office bombs. Cast as Darrin Stevens, he and his pushy agent Richie (Jason Schwartzman) try to raise Jack's profile by demanding an unknown be cast in the role of Samantha. Despite huge lines of actresses auditioning for the part, none is quite right. Then Jack discovers Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) while shopping in a book store. Isabel looks the part, and better still, can wiggle her nose. Best of all, she's unassuming and will let Jack have virtually all of the lines and the laughs without complaint.
What Jack doesn't know is that there's a reason Isabel is so quiet. It seems she's a real witch who's determined, much as Samantha is on the TV series, to live her life among mortals. As such, she has to learn their ways and do her best to fit in. Her father, Nigel Bigelow (Michael Caine), barely tolerates this latest foible of his daughter's. He warns her that she's not going to like the mortal world and that she's much better off where she was. He also cautions her that she can't simply stop being a witch because a witch is what she is. Isabel doesn't care; she's determined, and she becomes even more so when she makes friends.
Isabel's very friendly neighbor Maria Kelly (Kristen Chenoweth) and an on-set assistant named Nina (Heather Burns) offer both friendship and advice to the naive Isabel. Even Iris Smythson (Shirley MacLaine), the famous and egotistical actress tapped to play Samantha's mother, Endora, is friendly with the sweet Isabel. But the one man Isabel most wants to impress is her costar, Jack, and he's the one man that most wants only what he can get for himself. Though Isabel perseveres, she's eventually hurt and frustrated enough to resort to a little of the witchcraft she's sworn never to use again. And much like the character she plays on TV, everything doesn't work out quite as planned.
Nicole Kidman is a brilliant actress (if you've seen her in Moulin Rouge or The Others, you'll agree) who plays a role far, far beneath her here. Her poor choices lately (including the truly terrible Stepford Wives) mirror the bad choices made by Will Ferrell (brilliantly funny in Elf, his more recent Kicking and Screaming is awful). Together, the two have virtually no onscreen chemistry, and clashing styles of acting. Kidman is still okay, but can't be any better than that opposite Ferrell's trying-much-too-hard-to-be-funny-and-failing performance. Michael Caine is never less than good, and Shirley MacLaine is also fun to watch here (in fact, she offers up the only genuinely amusing moments in the film). In all fairness, none of the cast members can't really be said to be bad (well, except for Ferrell). Instead, they're all given really bad lines in really silly scenes that add up to making everybody look less than good, including a writer who's also been better in the past.
Nora Ephron, who co-wrote the script with Delia Ephron, also directs Bewitched. She, too, has made better choices and done better work in the past (she enjoys writing credits for, among other films, the passable You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, and the very good When Harry Met Sally and Silkwood; she also directed the former two). The direction for Bewitched seems capable and so does the editing, but the storyline and the script are weak at best. Perhaps the only redeeming quality in the entire movie also served to show just how second-rate it is: the only laughs we had during what was billed as a comedy were generated when we were shown brief clips from the original TV series. Those were funny. This movie is not.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Bewitched is rated PG-13 for "some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity." There's really very little that's objectionable even for relatively young children despite the rating (the nudity that's referenced is actually a rare funny moment rather than anything to do with sexuality), but the plot will probably not make much sense to little ones. Older kids are likely to consider much of what Bewitched has to offer as either dull or old hat. And adults are going to be bored at best, and disappointed to boot, that this movie wasn't as good as it should have been. If you're looking for something to see this week, don't be tempted to make Bewitched your choice.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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