Will Ferrell casts a spell with three summer movies

Actor's latest, `Bewitched,' will open tomorrow

Movies

June 23, 2005|By Terry Lawson | Terry Lawson,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Having made our request to talk to Will Ferrell about summer movies and, to our surprise, having said request granted, we figure we should jump right in:

Let's start with the movie everybody's talking about, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith.

"Well, those are always well done, you know," says Ferrell. "George Lucas. A legend, right?"

Right. OK, how about Batman Begins?

"Umm, Batman. I mean, it's Batman we're talking about, right? Batman!"

Finally, it hits me: Ferrell thinks he's here to talk about HIS summer movies.

"So what about that Bewitched?"

"Geez, I thought you'd never ask," he says, warming up to the subject. "Well, I'm in it, with Nicole Kidman. And I know this will sound stupid saying this, but, man, can that lady act."

In fact, talking to Ferrell about his summer movies -- he's in three -- is to talk about the essence of this summer's movies, which could be summed up in four words: "Remake, remodel, recycle, return."

Independent and foreign movies aside, the majority of high-visibility films that will fill screens between now and September are either parts of long-running or resurrected franchises, like Star Wars and Batman; cut from the successful cloth of previous hits, such as Monster-in-Law (think Meet the Parents); or based on a well-known TV series, as in The Honeymooners and Ferrell's Bewitched, opening tomorrow, in which he plays the unsuspecting husband of a pretty, perky witch.

Sort of. As Ferrell is quick to confirm, the movie Bewitched may not be precisely what everyone expects.

"As you may know, this project has been in development for 13 years, and there have been nine scripts. Or maybe it's been around for nine years and there have been 13 scripts; I get confused. Once Penny Marshall was going to direct it. And for a long time, it was a Jim Carrey project. But after he decided it wasn't quite right for him, they settled for me. What really sold me was this premise that [director and co writer] Nora [Ephron] and her sister had come up with. It really takes the idea somewhere else, while keeping enough of the flavor for the person who really loved that show."

"I play this somewhat out-of-fashion actor that they want to star in a new version of Bewitched," says Ferrell, referring to the much-loved sitcom that ran on ABC from 1964 to 1972. That show starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha, a witch who vows to give up her supernatural powers when she marries the mortal ad executive, Darrin, something that proves impossible for her to do.

"He [meaning Ferrell's actor character in the film] agrees only if the producers will cast an unknown as a wife, so he won't be upstaged," Ferrell says. "So I meet this girl, this nonactress, who's played by Nicole, and convince them she's the right person. But as coincidence would have it, she's an honest-to-goodness witch who's sort of on the lam from her family, which means that her mother comes looking for her."

Samantha's mother, Endora, played by the late Agnes Moorehead in the series, is played by Shirley MacLaine in the film, something Ferrell coyly calls "a pretty neat bit of casting."

With a summer-slotted, big-budget movie like Bewitched, Ferrell, who, with seven seasons at Saturday Night Live was one of the show's longest-serving cast members before leaving in 2002 to make movies, officially graduates to the leading man A-list. He had proven his drawing power and versatility in 2003's holiday hit Elf and last summer's local news spoof, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Ferrell's first summer at-bat is Kicking & Screaming, which opened May 13, and which Ferrell admits was originally written as something a lot like The Bad News Bears, the 1976 comedy starring Walter Matthau as an alcoholic Little League coach.

"It ended up being a lot more family-friendly, a lot more PG," says Ferrell, "but I think it works. Robert Duvall plays my dad, who's this legendary youth soccer coach who's so tough he cuts my kid, his own grandson, from the team. So I start coaching this team of losers, and you can pretty much take it from there. We end up playing against each other in the playoffs. But to me, just the idea that I'm working with Robert Duvall is amazing, something I could have never dreamed about."

Wedding Crashers, Ferrell's third movie of the summer -- it opens July 15 -- is not a remake or a brand-name title. But it does reunite Ferrell with Vince Vaughn, with whom he appeared in Zoolander, Old School and Anchorman, and Owen Wilson, of Zoolander. And oh, yeah, there's another film that has yet to find a distributor, The Wendell Baker Story, from Owen Wilson's brother, Luke.

And how do we classify that?

"Reunion?"

For film events, see Page 34.

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