A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
'The Stepford Wives" depends for some of its effect on a plot secret that you already know, if you've been paying attention at any time since the original film version was released in 1975. If you don't know it, stay away from the trailer, which gives it away. It's an enticing premise, an opening for wicked feminist satire, but the 1975 movie tilted toward horror instead of comedy. Now here's a version that tilts the other way, and I like it a little better.
The experience is like a new production of a well-known play. The original suspense has evaporated, and you focus on the adaptation and acting. Here you can also focus on the new screenplay by Paul Rudnick, which is rich with zingers. Rudnick, having committed one of the worst screenplays of modern times ("Isn't She Great," the Jacqueline Susann story), redeems himself with barbed one-liners; when one of the community planners says he used to work for AOL, Joanna asks, "Is that why the women are so slow?"
Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna Eberhart, a high-powered TV executive who is fired after the victim of one of her reality shows goes on a shooting rampage. Her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) resigns from the same network, where he worked under her, and moves with his wife and two children to the gated community of Stepford, Conn.
It's weird there. The women all seem to be sexy clones of Betty Crocker. Glenn Close is Claire Wellington, the real-estate agent, greeter and community cheerleader, and she gives Joanna the creeps (she's "flight attendant friendly"). Nobody in Stepford seems to work; they're so rich, they don't need to, and the men hang out at the Men's Association while the women attend Claire's exercise sessions. In Stepford, the women the women dress up and wear heels, even for aerobics (no sweaty gym shorts), and Claire leads them in pantomimes of domestic chores ("Let's all be washing machines!").