The Stepford Wives review by Mike Long

Unlike a lot of people, I'm on-board with the whole recent remake a point. There are many bad-to-mediocre films which could use a make-over, as they contained good ideas, but poor execution. However, when it comes to the classics, that's a different story. The 1975 film version of Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it's certainly one of the best paranoia films of all time and definitely delivers on the suspense and chills. Yet, the movie, with its emphasis on "women's lib" and funky costumes, is certainly dated. So, the idea of updating the story and making it more of a social satire isn't necessarily a bad one. Unfortunately, the resulting film is a total disaster, thus making the idea of a remake look like a huge mistake.

Nicole Kidman stars in The Stepford Wives as Joanna Eberhart, the powerful programming director for the EBS television network. But, Joanna's rise to the top ends when one of her new shows leads to a lawsuit and she's fired, resulting in a nervous breakdown. Joanna's husband, Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) (who also works at EBS), decides to move the family to the suburbs so that Joanna can recuperate. So, they move to the gated community of Stepford, Connecticut. Even through her depressed haze, Joanna notices that the women of Stepford are unusually friendly and chipper, and always immaculately dressed. She is glad to find a kindred spirit, when she meets frumpy author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler). As Joanna becomes more suspicious of the other women in town, Walter settles in with the other husbands at the "Men's Association", which is headed by Mike (Christopher Walken). Fearing for her life, Joanna infiltrates the Men's Association, and learns the deadly secret of the town.

There are so many things wrong with The Stepford Wives that I could ramble all night about it. But, instead, I'll start by pointing out the two things which the film gets right. First, the film tosses in a red herring ending which parrots the ending of the original film, and works as a nice nod to the 1975 version. Secondly, the deposed leader Joanna craves power, and Walter manipulates her by giving her little pieces of power by seemingly let her win arguments -- these dialogue scenes from writer Paul Rudnick are nicely done. I guess that I should also mention that the sets look great and the costumes are well-done. But, that's about it for the positives.

Now, back to the problems with The Stepford Wives '04. As noted above, the idea of making The Stepford Wives into a satirical comedy isn't a bad idea, however, the movie simply isn't funny. (The only laugh that it got from me was a reaction to a line from Jon Lovitz, which I feel sure was improvised.) That's not to say that the movie doesn't try hard to get laughs. Roger Bart appears in the film as Roger Bannister, part of the first gay couple to live in Stepford. This character is completely over-the-top and plays as the quintessential sassy, femme gay man. (This is surprising, as screenwriter Paul Rudnick and director Frank Oz had previously teamed up for In and Out, a film which tried to move past gay stereotypes.) The movie doesn't work nearly as hard as being scary and blows any chances of being suspenseful, or a mystery, as it gives away the Stepford secret far too early. Add to this the fact that the movie makes no sense whatsoever. Two SEPARATE explanations are given for what's happening to the women in Stepford, and this fact is never reconciled. The movie is finally done in by the fact that none of the characters are very likable. At the outset, Joanna is a cold bitch who is focused on her career. And as the movie progresses...she remains a cold bitch. Walter is a weenie and his character is never explored. The supporting cast seems to just wander in and out of scenes.

But, The Stepford Wives greatest mistake is that it clearly has no idea what mainstream America is thinking, or what it finds funny. The movie assumes that we all know rich white people, gay people, and Jewish people, and then begins to serve up the jokes. For the average viewer, there is nothing funny about people who get to live in 80,000-squre foot mansions and act silly. This is not what the real suburbs are like. In my everyday life, I see many stay-at-home moms dragging around their spoiled kids. These are the people who should have been spoofed in this movie. This film proves my oft-stated point that many filmmakers in Hollywood have become completely out-of-touch with modern, American society and think that only what they know should be placed in movies. The Stepford Wives is a true train-wreck of a film and which should have immediately been annulled.

The Stepford Wives moves onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here looks very good, as there is basically no grain and no obvious defects from the source material. Much of the film is very bright, and the costumes are filled with pastel colors. This stylistic choice looks fine on this transfer, giving the image a great deal of depth. There are some minor hints of artifacting, but otherwise the picture looks quite good. The DVD features a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue with no hissing. The stereo effects are good and well-placed. The surround sound effects are kept mainly to crowd noises and a thunderstorm (which contributes some bass), but they are effective as well.

The Stepford Wives DVD contains an interesting selection of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Frank Oz. If you aren't distracted by his Miss Piggy-meets-Fozzie Bear voice, you'll find that Oz does a good job of talking about the production in detail, describing the sets and actors. And while he speaks of changes in the final film, he doesn't really talk about any troubles in the production. "A Perfect World: The Making of The Stepford Wives" (20 minutes) is the standard "making of" featurette, although it does contain more behind-the-scenes footage, and less clips than we normally get. It contains comments from all of the principal cast and crew. In "Stepford: A Definition" (4 minutes), cast and crew members discuss the meaning of the word and how the book and movie have become part of pop culture. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick describes his take on the story in "Stepford: The Architects" (6 minutes). "The Stepford Wives" (10 minutes) examines the female characters and actors, while "The Stepford Husbands" (8 minutes) explores their male counterparts. The DVD contains 6 deleted/extended scenes, and there is a Play All feature. One scene with Bette Midler is simply terrible and shows that the film could have actually been worse. Strangely, none of the deleted subplots mentioned by Oz in the commentary are presented here. The extras are rounded out by the "Stepford Gag Reel" (5 minutes) and the Teaser Trailer (2.35:1) and the Theatrical Trailer (1.85:1), neither of which is 16 x 9.

2 out of 10 Jackasses

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