Not Enough Walken
I went and saw The Stepford Wives over the weekend. Every now and then I like to see a movie on its opening weekend, and it doesn't really matter what the movie is. I just like sitting in the dark in the 6th or 7th row back from the screen and getting totally absorbed in the movie. If the theater is packed and the movie gets a reaction from the audience – audible gasps, groans, or guffaws – so much the better. Unfortunately, The Stepford Wives was a rotten remake of a low-budget 1975 B-movie, and even Christopher Walken's presence didn't save the film.
I'll warn you now – I'm going to reveal lame plot twists in this review. If you haven't seen the movie and you're afraid that reading this review will spoil it for you, you're wrong. I'm going to give away the the plot twists -– true -– but the movie is a stinker so it doesn't really matter. By blowing the ending for you I'm doing you a favor.
The three main problems with this film are:
I'll bet you're saying “What about 'Too much Bette Midler'? Why isn't that on your list?”
Well, As amazing as it may seem, Bette Midler was actually pretty good in her role, as poorly-written as it was. She wasn't the main problem.
I didn't have my stopwatch out or anything, but the new version had been running for at least 45 minutes before Christopher Walken's character showed up. There is just NO WAY that you're going to get enough Walken if he isn't even IN the first 45 minutes of the movie. I felt just like I felt after I watched The Addiction, which said it starred Christopher Walken, then it turned out he was only in it for about fifteen minutes, over halfway through the film, incoherently babbling about vampires and heroin because no one bothered to actually write a script for him. Note to Hollywood: If you've GOT Christopher Walken in your film you should USE HIM AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. 'Nuff said.
Then there are all of the goddamn speeches. This new version of The Stepford Wives starts out with Joanna Eberhard (Nicole Kidman) making a speech to the affiliates of the television network she runs. Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) later makes a speech to Joanna about their failing marriage – then later on he does it AGAIN. Mike Wellington (Christoper Walken) makes a speech, then plays a commercial of himself making a speech. Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) makes a speech to the audience that goes on so long you'll be checking your watch and trying to calculate how many minutes are left before you can leave the theater. It's bad enough when you're watching a James Bond movie and the villain has to explain his Personal Motivation and Master Plan for Evil to Mr. Bond just before (failing) to kill him, but to have to sit through this sorry-ass plot device OVER AND OVER again as each character vamps to the camera about their own Personal Motivation and Master Plan for Evil is just too much. If the story was well-written and well-directed, we'd already know what the character's motivation was, SO SHUT THE FUCK UP ALREADY.
Finally, if you watched the original version of The Stepford Wives, you'd know that the women are all robots and that the women they replaced are all dead and buried somewhere out in the back 40. If you watched the TV commercial for the new version you'd know it too, because it shows Nicole Kidman's character unveiling a bald robot-replicant of herself.
(If you were unfortunate enough to have sat through Revenge of the Stepford Wives you'd know that if a film's producer cuts the budget to the bone a director can no longer afford to have even fake-looking robots, so you ignore everything in the original film and just claim that Everyone is On Drugs. You'd think they could have lifted some spare parts from The Six Million Dollar Man sound stage easy enough, but noooooo, EVERYONE IS ON DRUGS.)
It's not like the original version of The Stepford Wives was cinematic gold or anything – it was a cheesy, low-budget sci-fi thriller but it was CREEPY and a little bit SUSPENSEFUL and even had a few POIGNANT INSIGHTS about Life in Suburbia. It was FUN to watch and the ending made the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
As you watch the new movie what you already know – these women are robots -- gets reinforced. One woman shorts out. Another woman moonlights as an ATM machine. Bette Midler's robot-replicant doesn't notice that her hand is on fire. Nicole Kidman finds an unfinished replicant at the men's club.
Then the director (Frank Oz) butchers the shopping cart scene.
The original movie ends with Joanna Eberhard trying to get away, and you're not sure if she made it or not. Then it fades to all of the perfectly-dressed, perfectly-poised, perfectly-made-up women strolling through the perfect supermarket with their shopping carts saying pleasant nothings to each other. Then you see Joanna Eberhard, and she is ONE OF THEM. It's damn CREEPY. It's GREAT. It's what made the film a cult classic and IT IS NOT A HAPPY ENDING.
The new movie has the same scene, only it's all chopped up, and the movie doesn't end. Instead, the goddamn studio execs opt for the Happy Ending. After they've been dropping every hint in the world that the women are robots and that the men have done away with them, suddenly it turns out that they're not really robots -- they're controlled with nano-technology chips (the size of quarters) which are conveniently radio-controlled by a master computer which is easily destroyed by randomly punching its buttons. Why not just have Mr. Spock pop in and say "Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad"? I hear that makes robots go completely haywire too.
So all of the women (and one gay man) are saved, all of the Evil Villains die, and all of the malignant men-folk are punished by making them do all of the chores around the house. Everything is nice and tidy, and nothing bad happens to anyone who doesn't deserve it. The End.
Well, something bad deserves to happen to the folks who created this steamer, and that bad thing is they should lose the millions of dollars they've sunk into this pile 'o crap -- so don't go see this movie. If you're in the mood for a cheesy sci-fi thriller, rent the original and watch it at home instead.
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