starring Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken
screenplay by Paul Rudnick, based on the novel by Ira Levin
directed by Frank Oz
by Walter Chaw At one time Jim Henson's right hand, Frank Oz is the index finger that you close your book around when you get up to answer the door. An afterthought of a place-holder of a director, his cameo as the evidence officer in The Blues Brothers ("One prophylactic...one soiled") is as succinct a statement as any of the man's non-Muppet contributions to the films he directs. His visual style flat, his rapport with non-plush actors non-existent, Oz instinctively arranges everything as he would puppets on a soundstage: sightlines clear, movement in straight lines, and coverage that establishes the marvel of place but no sense that living things exist there. He's not a bad choice at first glance, then, for the second adaptation of Ira Levin's paranoia classic The Stepford Wives (already a mediocre camp classic 1975 movie starring Katharine Ross), the saga of a lovely young woman who discovers, Rosemary's Baby-like (another Levin source), that her husband is kind of a pig and her exclusive suburban neighbourhood is populated by vacuous femme-bots imagined as ideal wife-replacements by their pigs of husbands. Like the first film, an impossibly lovely woman is cast as the empowered lead to lend the premise a little more ironic horror, but Nicole Kidman, unlike Ross, is already an automaton and has been cast as such in films like To Die For and Eyes Wide Shut. The greatest special effect in Kidman's career is her sometime ability to simulate warmth--something that's not required in The Stepford Wives, and so again it would seem as though her involvement in this project makes a great deal of sense. Because of this, it's sort of amazing how genuinely bad are the results.