Release Date:  June 11, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content, thematic material and language)
Genre:  Comedy/Drama/Thriller
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director:  Frank Oz
Actors:   Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Faith Hill and Glenn Close

Oh, you plasticized, perfectionist, pitiful stay-at-home mothers! Don’t you know how fake you are?  And what about your careers – your glorious, inspiring, potential-charged careers? You could have ruled the corporate world, but you gave it all up! And for what?  Babies, baking and boredom! But don’t worry.  It’s your husbands, not you, who are to blame for this terrible mess. They’re the evil ones, because they were too insecure for “the real you,” the spouse that can do it all, far better than they ever could. However, it’s not too late for things to be rectified. Hollywood is here to help, and the truth will be revealed.

Like Sammy Sosa aiming for a new record, “The Stepford Wives” comes out swinging. Fortunately, this box office blunder is about as skillful – and has as much chances of succeeding – as a peewee hoping for a homerun.

Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is a big bad, top-level television executive who loses her job, then her cool. Her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) quits in protest and the couple moves their family from Manhattan to Stepford, Ct. (“the suburbs”) for a change of pace. Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) shows Joanna the ropes – and the baking, gardening and crafts – that she is expected to take on, before greeting her husband in lacy lingerie at the end of each day. Along with feminist author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and gay architect Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), however, Joanna becomes increasingly uncomfortable as the women appear more and more robot-like.

Along with Bobbie’s husband Dave (Jon Lovitz) and Roger’s homosexual “partner” Jerry (David Marshall Grant), Walter is embraced by the Stepford Men’s Association, which holds mysterious, closed-door meetings in a fortress-like mansion. When Roger undergoes an overnight transformation, throwing out his pink Dolce & Gabbana shirts and running for office as a conservative Republican, Joanne and Bobbie are shocked. But then Bobbie is transformed, too, into yet another perfect blond who caters to her husband and spoils her children. Joanna knows she is next, and sets off for the mansion where her husband and the other men are waiting.

Director Frank Oz (“The Score”) is best-known for his monster voices – not his directing – including Yoda (“Star Wars”), the Cookie Monster (“Elmo”) and Fungus (“Monsters, Inc.”). As Jim Henson’s right-hand man for years, Oz learned to present simplistic stories in ways that were accessible to children. Unfortunately, this story is neither simplistic nor accessible. Where it attempts to teach – about the importance of feminism, the various ways that someone can be both gay and normal and the hypocritical evils of the Grand Old Party – it simply confuses.

Inspired by Ira Levin’s novel, the original “Stepford Wives” appeared in 1975 at the height of the feminist movement. A darkly brooding satire with a strong political message, the movie exposed those who dared to condemn career-driven women to a dreary life at home. The most successful film remakes update or retool an original movie, giving it a new twist. Oz does this, adding a gay couple, technology and jokes about corporate America. But, unlike other, more inspired remakes, this film can’t decide whether it’s a comedy, a satire or a thriller, which causes the plot to wobble and makes the ending (which was reportedly re-shot and tampered with until just weeks ago) ridiculous.

Kidman isn’t a bad actress, but she doesn’t exactly exude warmth. She nevertheless overshadows Broderick, both in height and in performance. Close’s character is but a caricature, until it lapses into cartoon silliness at the end. So it’s Midler and Bart, as the feminist and the gay guy, who steal the show. Midler’s lines (including a racy one about a pinecone) are the best in the film, which is short on dialogue and long on lectures. Bart, however, gives a few good laughs as a clichéd but funny “flamer” (a gay man who acts feminine).

The biggest problem with this movie, however, is its message, which tries too hard to drive the political points home in ways that are likely to be offensive to conservatives, non-working wives and mothers, Republicans and even, ironically, gays, who are lampooned with alarming harshness. And that’s not including the strong language, sexuality and themes which are wholly inappropriate for children.

"The Stepford Wives” missed a great opportunity to update its message and speak to the very modern issue of what it means to be real in a superficial world. It also could have explored what postmodern husbands expect of their wives, in terms of love, honor and respect, as they face the shared responsibilities of family life in an increasingly hectic society. Instead, this movie skids along, barely making it to first base, until it is finally declared “foul.”

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