STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Bette Midler, Jon Lovitz

2004, 93 Minutes, Directed by Frank Oz

A wholly uninspired and shoddily constructed remake of the 1975 original, this version of The Stepford Wives is a big budget affair replete with a great cast that’s forced to flounder with poor material that only works once in a great while; the material itself isn’t helped by a lead performance by Nicole Kidman that is all shrill, all the time; a one note performance if I ever saw one. To top it all off, the film’s finale is so poorly handled that it is never made clear what is actually occurring until a half-hearted explanation is made that still doesn’t make sense.

Joanna, once a top-flight TV executive, has just been unceremoniously fired from her job and her faithful husband Walter has decided to quit his job too. They have made plans to move to the seemingly idyllic Connecticut town of Stepford, a gated community where all the women are perfect and all the men seem much too nerdy to have gotten such beautiful wives. As expected, the town holds a secret that runs more than skin deep. Revealing any more would spoil the film for those who are able to sit through this soulless star vehicle.

This film fails to work because of a script that although it throws joke after joke at us, only a miniscule number of the jokes actually work. The majority instead are limp and lifeless attempts at jabs at political correctness and gender roles in society. Such targets are similar to the ones poked fun at in the much better original, but unlike that production, this film’s writing lacks the satiric edge necessary to make the comedy work. The film instead seems focused on making the stars involved look good and therefore gives them showy scenes that certainly are flamboyant, but to the film’s detriment as the cast is coaxed into over acting so much as to become grating.

Speaking of the cast, their performances are a mixed bag. In the lead role, Nicole Kidman gives a one note performance as she plays the clichéd career woman character type but without bringing any other layers to the role; making the character an annoyingly shrill persona with little in the way of depth. As her husband, Matthew Broderick seems positively bored much of the time. He gives little effort; perhaps recognizing the dud he has gotten himself into. As the patriarch of Stepford, Christopher Walken is, as usual, quirky but not as effective as he can be because of the poor lines given to him. As Joanna’s solitary friend in Stepford, Bette Midler gives perhaps the film’s best performance as she lends her character a dry, sly wit that garners some laughs.

Something must be said of how much this film botches its finale. There was word of multiple reshoots and discussions being done by Paramount executives and director Frank Oz as the suits weren’t happy with the way the film ended. As evidenced by the final product, no amount of tinkering seemed to help. This film has perhaps the most poorly constructed denouement seen in a film this year. Events happen without explanation, characters’ motivations change on a whim, and silliness prevails over all else. The ending to The Stepford Wives is just plain awful.

In fact, as a whole, The Stepford Wives is an entirely lackluster production. A great cast is put to little use in what is the worst remake to come out of Hollywood since The Truth About Charlie redid Charade.

- Joe Rickey



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