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The Stepford Wives

  The Stepford Wives
Nicole Kidman is frightened by her hairdo.

© 2004, Paramount
All Rights Reserved

After being fired from her cushy network television job, Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman, burying her good looks for a refreshing change) falls into a deep depression. Her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick), has an idea to move to a small, gated community, known as Stepford, to forget their troubles. Once there, Joanna begins to notice something odd about the bizarre, desperately obedient housewives (including Faith Hill and Glenn Close) that populate the town. Teaming up with her "normal" neighbors (Bette Midler and Roger Bart), Joanna begins to piece together the puzzle of why the men (including Jon Lovitz and Christopher Walken) hold all the cards in this luxurious town.

Based on the novel by Ira Levin, "The Stepford Wives" was previously adapted into a 1975 film, starring Katherine Ross. There, the themes of the novel, along with metaphors about the ERA, were free to roam in that highly strange, part horror, part science fiction tale. The 2004 version is a bastardization of the original concept in which the filmmakers desired originality, but didn't want to do the heavy lifting. In place of suspense, metaphors, and horror, 2004's "Stepford" (IMDb listing) is campy, erratic entertainment. Nobody wins in this upgrade.

This farce is to be expected, as it comes from the keyboard of Paul Rudnick, the screenwriter behind "In & Out," "Jeffrey," and the reprehensible, "Marci X." Rudnick has never been one to turn away from wild, campy material, and the man loves his shtick. The new "Stepford" feels like a Catskills comedian, dying slowly on stage under a boiling spotlight; it's filled with tacky jokes about dumb blondes, reality TV, Connecticut, and AOL, not to mention peppered with screaming queen gay stereotypes (a Rudnick specialty). If Rudnick had directed this movie, it would be a cast of drag queens as the wives. The focus doesn't seem to be on the title characters, but more on what pop culture reference joke will come next, which certainly takes away from the mysterious air of the story. All director Frank Oz can do is throw his hands up in the air and allow Rudnick's atrocious screenplay to steamroll the original storyline, literalizing Rudnick's burlesque (Roger Bart plays the homosexual character, cloaked in lavender and pink, tossing fey body language without moderation) as thoroughly as he can.

The first 45 minutes of this 90-minute feature set up the central idea of the tale, and allow Rudnick to camp it up wildly through his myriad of characters and ideas. But when the science fiction elements take over, and the film starts to become a little more reminiscent of the source material, the picture drops dead. Oz can't balance between the two tones, and gets a little too heavy-handed with the fantasy elements. The salt in the wound is Rudnick's attempt to one-up the original story by adding a twist to Levin's already infamous twist. The new angle to the "Stepford" tale comes out of nowhere in the finale and the reasons behind it are sketchy at best. In an attempt to give the audience something new to chew on, and try to make this already covered terrain their own, Oz and Rudnick ruined what was so effective about the original.

Filmfodder Grade: C-

Follow the herd.
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