Cinema Signal:

All That Heaven Allows
the DVD

. "The Stepford Wives"

The film may be about artificiality but that hrdly excuses that quality in the storytelling. If there were ever a remake that was pointless, this is it. If ever a horror film was ineptly rendered into a pathetic comedy, we have it here. And, if ever there were a statement that applied to a 50's world that didn't in 2004, this is that, as well.

First, we have hugely successful NY TV executive Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) bloated with network power and the smug self-absorption that goes with that picture learning and dealing with the bald fact that because of her no longer fab ideas for shows about women-power, she's being fired. And, just when she thought she had the universe in her hands.

Then, there's hubby Walter (Matthew Broderick) who is going to save the day and his wife's self esteem by quitting his job at the station and buying sight unseen in Stepford, Connecticut and getting away from big city pressures. So, they pack up the kids and have their first look at their new digs in an encapsulated community where the wives are almost all model thin, giggle like airheads, and move as though they don't want to stir up the prevailing lifelessness.

The general obedience the women of this enclave show to their spouses might be from something in the water supply but, no, it's no mystery that they are as robotic as they seem and the second act developments awkwardly reveal the controllers and methodology behind this "paradise" of men's desires.

As Walter gets more and more in league with the guys his hopes that Joanna will get with the program rise and becomes the central issue. All the while, she's seeking out like thinkers and gets in league with comfortably sloppy non-fiction writer Bobbi Markowitz (Bette Midler) and some guy who seems to come out of left field to play gay side kick Roger Bannister (Roger Bart) who seems to be the rebellious "female" in his partnership. He seems to have been inserted into the team of resisters because the far more dramatically salient hubby Walter is otherwise engaged with the enemy, personified by cult leader Mike Wellington (Chirstopher Walken) and his driven spouse, Claire (Glenn Close), whose mission in life seems to be to fill the dead spaces in the lives of the women with one empty-headed activity after another, suitable to their mental capacities.

None of which is ever lifted into the realm of the meaningful by a thematic justification or timely purpose. Which is bad news for the talent here. Even Kidman, who's range of talent is usually enough to provide all the chemistry a weak script might need, can't get over on this one, defeated by the material. But, that's all right. I still believe she can do no wrong.

Director Frank Oz may have been aiming for a recessive darkness, as in his "Little Shop of Horrors" but demonstrates, instead, the awkwardness and story holes of an empty idea. Did he and his scriptwriter Paul Rudnick really think they could pull it off with a few slick one-liners and cheap shots at overdone drama? Did it never occur to them that fantasy does not equate to irrationality? I would have gladly traded the occasional laugh for some serious logic.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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