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"The Stepford Wives"

Directed by Frank Oz.
Written by Paul Rudnick.  Based on the book by Ira Levin.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  6/13/04

From what I have heard about the novel "The Stepford Wives", it is supposed to be black comedy to its fullest--an interesting look at what happens when the men in traditional marriages get sick and tired of being second fiddle to smarter, more athletic, more successful wives.  The biggest difference, then, between the novel and the latest film update of the tome is that there is no "black" in the 2004 version of the comedy.

If this was intentional, it doesn't work, as the modern update of the novel gives us many funny lines at the expense of corporate America, or puppies, or Connecticut, but there is really nothing dark about the happenings in this movie.  Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna, an über-successful TV entertainment president that is fired from her network job following an ill-advised pilot on her network.  Seeking to make her newly-deposed wife feel better--and to repair a marriage that is on the rocks--Joanna's husband Walter (Matthew Broderick, perfectly cast) moves the family from Manhattan to a small town in Connecticut called Stepford.  After moving into their well-appointed new mansion, Joanna meets many of the women of Stepford and starts to realize that something is REALLY whacked out about just how perfect all of the women seem to be; of course, Walter seems to think things are perfectly fine, and the twosome try to figure out if staying in Stepford for life can be a happy medium or not.

Selecting Frank Oz to direct "The Stepford Wives" might be the thing that seals the fate of the book translation almost right away; the man directed "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Bowfinger", two of my faves over the years because they are simply hilarious.  This whole comedy-with-a-twist thing, though, is really not his specialty, and so we get a number of funny quips (one character witnessing a train wreck of a living room mess:  "What, are you making anthrax?") but not a lot of undertone...for whatever reason, it doesn't feel like anything is building towards anything else.  We get the token funny gay stereotype, in Roger (Roger Bart), who does lend much to his scenes, and the loudmouth Bobbie (Bette Midler), the author-wife of a loser that Joanna spends a lot of her time hangin' with.  But, you don't really like or get into any of them, and since they are the heroes in this thing, you'd like to have some reason to get into their characters.

That never comes.  Also, some of the jokes really fall flat, Christopher Walken is made a non-factor (rare), and the ending of "The Stepford Wives" feels--like my buddy Chi "Blow'd Up" Szeto joked afterwards--like a cable puller was asked to fill in the blanks after the film gets itself in a big hole.  (Director and screenwriter to cable puller:  "Hey, uh, we REALLY need help with our ending...any ideas?")  Now, maybe the ending was like that in the book, but if so, somebody ought to be shot, because the ending had our theater groaning in disapproval as folks walked out of the theater.  The flipside of this is that "The Stepford Wives" is very watchable throughout; it moves quickly, it was impressively shot, the women and their patterns of movement really do make the spectacle of these women in action look 100% ridiculous.  Also, this film has got one of the funniest-sounding orgasms in recent film history.  For a PG-13, this is commendable!

Kidman is playing a part here that is good for those like myself that have begun to suffer from Kidman Overexposure; her occasionally weak Joanna is well played, and even slightly believable once she arrives in the Stepford haven...and, it led to me not quietly hating what a huge star she has become over the last three years or so.  Bart and Broderick do some decent work, and again, the little one-liners and quips in this film are occasionally very funny.  But overall, I could have done without "The Stepford Wives", a periodically cool but ultimately pedestrian flick.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09