As amusing as are large portions of "The Stepford Wives," there are still unmistakable traces of studio interference all over it.
The film shifts tone dramatically in the final third, from goofy satirical comedy to a considerably darker thriller yet, it's capped off with a silly closing sequence that's clearly the result of studio-mandated reshoots, a new ending that isn't really needed.
Actually, it's a surprise the film works at all, as it is released by Paramount Pictures, where many executives and filmmakers seem to have been replaced by Stepford replicants. (How else do we explain the studio's lack of confidence in "Mean Girls" or its abundance of confidence in "Paycheck"?)
It should also be noted that the TV ads and theatrical trailers for "The Stepford Wives" are more than a little bit misleading. This remake is much more light-hearted than it may appear.
Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna Eberhart, a successful (read: cold and calculating) television-network president who is fired after one of her reality programs goes awry. That's enough to send her into a nervous breakdown, so Joanna's husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) packs up the family and heads to the seemingly tranquil, gated community of Stepford, Conn., where they hope to restart their lives.
While Walter and the kids seem at home in the suburbs, Joanna is suspicious of the too-friendly Stepford residents, especially the seemingly subservient wives. So she and her new best friend, froopy author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), set out to uncover the town's well-guarded secret.
Paul Rudnick's screenplay is filled with smart dialogue and funny pop-culture references, including some well-observed parodies of reality TV programming.
And though that tonal shift toward the end is a bit drastic, director Frank Oz makes it work, as does the game cast. Midler seems to be having the best time she's a hoot. And so is Glenn Close, co-starring as Stepford's chirpiest homemaker. And it's always nice to see Christopher Walken in a humorous role; he does a nice job of playing off his customary gruff screen persona.
"The Stepford Wives" is rated PG-13 for crude humor about and references to sexual functions, simulated sex (overheard), violence (gunplay and a bludgeoning), scattered use of strong profanity, brief drug content (references to prescription drug abuse), and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 93 minutes.