Seen at the Movies:

The trouble-plagued new production of The Stepford Wives, based on Ira Levin’s novel and the 1975 film version, is a predictable wreck of a movie, with Paul Rudnick one-liners taking the place of narrative sense. The notion of the filmmakers, including director Frank Oz and Rudnick, was to exploit the comic possibilities in Levin’s gimmicky thriller about husbands in a Connecticut bedroom community who turn their wives into sexy housecleaning robots. What has escaped their grasp is that the material was already a black comedy, and that lampooning it is gratuitous. And no one has been able to deal with the seriously dated aspects of the original novel and film, which emerged from anxieties over 1970s-style feminism. Here, the lead character Joanna (Nicole Kidman) has been made into a high-powered TV executive who is fired and suffers a nervous breakdown; Stepford is the gated retreat where her nebbishy husband (Matthew Broderick) spirits her to recover. Other residents include fellow new arrivals Bette Midler and Jon Lovitz, token gay couple Roger Bart and David Marshall Grant, and town doyenne Glenn Close, whose husband Christopher Walken heads a secretive men’s association.


Stepford Wives: Andrew Schwartz/Paramount Pictures

There are laughs to be had in The Stepford Wives, and the cast is always appealing; Close, in particular, camps amusingly. But the story either lost its way in reshoots, or never did make any sense. Are the Stepford wives robots, or regular women controlled by computer chips? If the latter, how are their bodies made to change shape with the flick of a button? I doubt if Rudnick et. al. really care—the effect is just good for a cheap laugh. The movie is also nothing to speak of from a design standpoint. Costume designer Ann Roth basically apes and updates the frilly outfits from the 1975 film, fitting Kidman’s pre-transformation character into stock New York career woman black. (Has anyone really dressed that way since about 1988?) Production designer Jackson De Govia has the thankless job of coming up with a series of Martha Stewart interiors. And DP Rob Hahn goes for a dark, sculpted style that just ends up looking incongruous.


I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: Keith Hamshere/Paramount Classics

From England, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead reunites Croupier director Mike Hodges and star Clive Owen in a story about a reformed hoodlum brought back to his London haunts by the death of his brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). The movie has tons of atmosphere—DP Mike Garfath does a terrific job making you feel both the pull and the squalor of the wet South London streets. The palette is often colorful, but in a vaguely unsavory manner. The film grabs you with its style and its teasing structure, only to let you down. Owen is frustratingly inexpressive here, even if he is given a tantalizing romance with the much older Charlotte Rampling. And the solution to the mystery of the brother’s death, which involves the psychosexual rage of crime boss Malcolm McDowell, is both convoluted and over-explicit. The carefully established milieu of the movie feels spot-on, while most of what happens in it seems fraudulent.--John Calhoun