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The Stepford Wives /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill, Bette Midler

Directed by: Frank Oz

Produced by: Donald De Line, Gabriel Grunfeld, Scott Rudin, Edgar J. Scherick
Written by: Paul Rudnick
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler in Paramount's The Stepford Wives

Surprising things are afoot in Paramount Pictures' The Stepford Wives
Nicole Kidman learns the joy of shopping in Paramount Pictures' The Stepford Wives

     I absolutely loathed remakes that simply copied their source material until I saw this version of The Stepford Wives. It makes that style of updating seem not so bad.

     Frank Oz’s rendition of the 1975 hit, which starred Katherine Ross, is a different movie than the original. Not just different in terms of tone and storytelling, but different in terms of plot. A new twist has been added to the ending and the old characters are barely recognizable here. Originality is usually splendid in a remake, but in this one, it’s a death sentence. The story of The Stepford Wives was done in the only way it could’ve been the first time. Changing its dark mix of horror and humor into a satirical, tongue-in-cheek, cutesy eye-roller was one terrible idea.

     Paul Rudnick’s screenplay feels like a rejected take on the old treatment. What makes it even more of a failure is the fact that those who have embodied his work are qualified people. Who would’ve guessed that one day Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glen Close, and Christopher Walken would find themselves trying their very hardest in a downright clumsy picture together? Their best efforts are what allow The Stepford Wives to graze the lands of mediocrity, instead of forcing it to permanently reside with Satan in hell. The five actors even provide some comedic spice and witty originality to the story, occasionally. Close, in particular, has worked wonders with the dead and dreary script.

      Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, the main character, who has been transformed into a television network executive in this recent edition. When all her shows are cancelled, because a former contestant on one of them led a killing spree, as a result of the emotional damage the program caused him, Joanna and her family decide to escape from the city. She; her husband Walter (Broderick), whose last name has, for some reason, been changed to Kresby; and their two kids decide on Stepford, Connecticut as a place of relocation. It is one of the few cities, completely free of crime and poverty in the nation. Here, the women act perfectly and look flawless. The only person Joanna can truly befriend is Bobbi Markowitz (Midler), an average hippie, and the author of many acclaimed books. But after awhile, even Bobbi is lost to perfection, and thing’s become more than just a little freaky. Joanna discovers that all of the women in Stepford are actually robots, programmed by their spouses at the local men’s club, and she’s their next target for machine-transformation.

     Needless substitutions of many features of the original flick ensue in The Stepford Wives. For example, some of the best scenes in the original film were Joanna’s sessions with her psychiatrist, which she began seeing after feeling unsafe as a result of the neighboring women’s strange behavior. These are nowhere to be found in the updated version. Taking their place is a new character, named Roger (Roger Bannister), who is, of course, a homosexual. He’s not interesting, serving as a mere stereotype utilized without any creativity. In addition, the suspenseful mood of the first film is now replaced by a thoroughly annoying one. Director Oz’s work is far too showy for its own good, boasting some sort of retro feel, which he clearly thinks enhances the movie’s content. All it does, though, is contribute to the already unbearable cheese-factor, making the project far more atrocious than pleasant.

     I suppose The Stepford Wives will come across as completely harmless fun on cable television in a year or so, but it certainly doesn’t merit a theatre trip. Stupidity is abundant in every corner of it, and is not only evident in the work of the director and the writer, but the subject matter, as well. Its predecessor wasn’t just supposed to be funny; it also had a bit of a social significance, in addition to both humor and horror. How strange that this one is billed as a comedy, but it manages to be a lot less amusing than the earlier edition was. It is simply a dopey and unnecessary flick, harmless in its intentions, but incredibly flawed in its execution.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (6.11.2004)

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