”It’s foolish that people think there shouldn’t be any tension on set,” defends director Frank Oz. ”It’s insane.” He’s referring, of course, to his problem-plagued remake of the 1975 ”Stepford” creepfest, which tackled such issues as feminism and paranoia, not to mention fear of suburbia. Among the tabloid reports: Oz clashes with Midler! Kidman refuses to film in the sweltering heat! (the film was shot in New York City and Connecticut last summer) Walken storms off the set when he learns that his character — Mike Wellington — would be beheaded at the end of the film! While Oz cops to indeed clashing with the Divine Miss M (”Of course, I regret that in the heat of the moment, we had tension,” he says, ”but that happens in every movie”), he won’t confirm or deny any guillotine-driven plot twists (”That’s the last thing I wanna do”).
Okay, enough with the explanations and on to the film: The darkly campy script from Paul Rudnick (”In & Out,” ”Addams Family Values”) follows the same story — the strange goings-on surrounding Joanna and Walter Eberhart (Kidman and Matthew Broderick) when they move from Manhattan to the bucolic town of Stepford — but shifts the action to the postfeminist 21st century. Walter soon joins a secret all-male society run by Wellington, while Joanna teams up with dowdy local Bobbie Markowitz (Midler). Glenn Close joins the fray as Wellington’s wife.
The script called for lots of ”Witches of Eastwick”-style effects — ”We take advantage of remote controls, e-mail, and CGI animation,” chirps Rudnick — and a forward-thinking spin on women’s lib. ”We are watching the world’s reaction to the idea of female power every day,” he says, citing Martha Stewart’s downfall as exhibit A. ”And the man’s response to a powerful woman being a form of technological annihilation has a dark tone to it. But there’s also something instantly comic about a man turning his wife into a robot!”
THE GOOD NEWS That cast.
THE BAD NEWS According to Oz, ”We’re probably going to do a couple of additional shoots to sharpen up the story line.” That’s never a good sign.
Rating The Trailer: Bette Steals It
”The Stepford Wives” (June 11)
See the trailer
PREMISE After network exec Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) loses her job, she and her husband (Matthew Broderick) move to the all-too-perfect suburb of Stepford, where ”the women are always smiling — and having incredible sex in the middle of the day with their husbands.” Dark forces (including Christopher Walken) conspire to turn Kidman and her pal Bobbi Markowitz (Bette Midler) into true Stepford spouses.
SLOGAN Perfection has a price.
PERCENTAGE OF PLOT REVEALED 50
VERDICT Despite so-so advance buzz and a lousy teaser-trailer, ”Stepford”’s first full-length preview shows some promise. Kidman’s chilly performance isn’t particularly appealing; the real laughs come from Midler, a frizzy-haired author, among whose books is an account of her relationship with her mother titled ”I Love You, but Please Die.” Her transformation into an empty-headed bottle blonde is priceless — even if the rest of the movie may still need a makeover. B-