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The Stepford Wives

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill, Glenn Close, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, Lorri Bagley, Mike White, Christopher Evan Welch, Robert Stanton, Kate Shindle

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

In another in her string of disappointing performances after her Oscar winning work on THE HOURS, Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna Eberhart in THE STEPFORD WIVES, the remake of the 1975 film, which starred Katharine Ross. Opening with a shrill performance as the head of a television network, Kidman is never convincing, which proves to be the downfall for a movie that contains many hilarious portions. The script, which has too many logical flaws and some unnecessary characters, still manages to provide sporadic charm.

In the introduction, we see Joanna reviewing her reality show triumphs to the affiliates at their annual convention. The funniest of these is a survival show called, "I Can Do Better," in which a married couple is tempted for a week. Each spouse is provided with the services of prostitutes and porn stars to lure them away from their marriage vows forever. Mike White (SCHOOL OF ROCK) plays the dorky husband who stayed chaste while his equally homely wife took on the entire cast of a porn movie. Needless to say, he is not a happy camper after his wife declares with a gleeful grin that she can do better, much better.

Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick), Joanna's husband and a network vice president who works for her, decides to quit his job after she is fired. He buys her a new home in the suburbs. In the gated community of Stepford in Connecticut, he thinks they will find happiness in a picture-perfect mansion that looks straight out of Architectural Digest.

The strangest parts of the town, in this sci-fi, black comedy, are the women, who look and act like crosses between Barbie Dolls and Playboy Bunnies. Always dressed in flowery dresses and high heels, they even wear these uniforms to exercise class, where they practice their housecleaning moves. These extra-perky females scare Joanna, who refers to them as being "deranged flight attendant friendly." Their houses are always immaculate, like polished mausoleums of domestic bliss.

Joanna finds a soul mate in Bobbi Markowitz (Bette Midler), a poorly dressed slob of a housekeeper. Bobbi is a busy author whose best selling books include, "I Love You. Now Die," and "Wait Until He's Asleep and then Cut It Off." Bobbi asks Joanna if she doesn't find it strange that every woman in town, except them, is "a perfect sex kitten and a blonde bimbo," and that every man is a "drooling nerd."

The first clue that Joanna gets that something is seriously amiss in Stepford comes when one of the wives' brains goes into an infinite loop at a party and the woman spins out of control. The ever wonderful Christopher Walken, plays Mike Wellington, the town's Mr. Fix-it when it comes to wayward women like the above spinning top. Mike is married to Claire (Glenn Close), the community's real estate agent, aerobics instructor and First Lady.

Directed by Frank Oz and written by Paul Rudnick, who collaborated on the hilarious IN & OUT, the movie ends abruptly as if some nefarious editor had hacked it up. But along the way there are some memorable moments, the best being the explanation as to why the Stepford Wives are so slow.

Having never seen the original and never read the book, I was still easily able to guess the story's ending surprise. There is one cute little twist, however, that I didn't predict. THE STEPFORD WIVES works only in spurts, like a robot with a faulty power supply.

THE STEPFORD WIVES runs 1:33. It is rated PG-13 for "sexual content, thematic material and language" and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.

Copyright 2004 Steve Rhodes

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