Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Fall, Daddy's Home

Dylan Walsh (NIP/TUCK) demonstrates that he’s no Terry O’Quinn in THE STEPFATHER, a limp remake of the 1987 film that did little box office, but became a cult favorite on cable and home video. Based on the true story of family murderer John List, the original STEPFATHER was a smart understated thriller with a corker of a complex performance by O’Quinn (LOST), who returned for a 1989 sequel. Under the direction of TV journeyman Nelson McCormick (who worked with Walsh on NIP/TUCK), the remake is routine boogeyman stuff.

The difference between the two films is evident from their opening scenes, in which the Stepfather cleans up, changes his appearance, and leaves his house after the off-screen murders of his family. Whereas Joseph Ruben, the director of the original, played the scene in a calm, understated fashion, echoing the cool sociopathy of the main character, McCormick adds whooshing camera tricks, “scary” music, and close-ups of the murdered children, which is much less interesting and respectful of its audience.

Now calling himself David Harris, the Stepfather finds a new family in Portland, Oregon with divorcee Susan (Sela Ward) and her three children. The two youngest take to David immediately, but the oldest is Michael (Penn Badgley), a high school senior home from military school, a supposed bad seed with a bad temper, but not played that way by Badgley (GOSSIP GIRL), who’s also too old to be convincing. He’s a bit suspicious of his new stepdad’s temper and the way he can’t keep the details of his backstory straight.

Scripter J.S. Cardone (SNIPER 3) apes the structure, but not the nuance of Donald E. Westlake’s original. Act Three really ramps up the stupid and adds an insulting coda. McCormick overdoes the horror clichés—the springloaded cat, the face in the mirror, a raging thunderstorm—making this STEPFATHER a technically polished but dramatically void affair. Amber Heard is Michael’s petulant girlfriend in a hilarious variety of bikinis. Paige Turco (THE AGENCY) and Sherri Stringfield (NYPD BLUE) are wasted as Susan’s sister and her partner. Also with Jon Tenney as Susan’s ex, Nancy Linehan Charles, Braeden LeMasters, Skyler Samuels, Jason Wiles, and Jesselyn Gilsig.


Brandon L. Summers said...

A lot of the suspense of whether or not The Stepfather was a murderer was lost in the advertisements where he was shown dangling a buzzsaw over their face.

So, the ads were effectively coasting on the fact of its being a remake of a cult horror.

The naughts were a cavalcade of feckless remakes: When a Stranger Calls, Prom Night, Black Christmas.

But who knows how the future will regard these films, really.

Good writing, again.

Neil Sarver said...

I'm not sure I understand Brandon's comment. I didn't see the ads, but, as the article says, the original didn't have any mystery surrounding if he'd kill, it just had a tight suspenseful when, how, why scenario.

Which isn't to say I think those ads were necessarily good.

Amanda By Night said...

The worst crime committed by the new Stepfather is that it's boring, boring, BO-RING! I thought it was a sack of crap.

Brandon L. Summers said...

To Neil Sarver,

The original was suspenseful because the child didn't know who her stepfather was. It was like a low-rent "Shadow of a Doubt".

I haven't seen the film, and won't, but I'd bet it spends the first hour and a quarter investigating whether or not The Stepfather is dangerous and such.

That very mild suspense is lost by showing, in a 15 second ad, him terrorizing his family with a buzz saw.

There's no suspense in a foregone conclusion. What else does that leave? With a PG-13 rating, I doubt much gore.

The film is pointless, coasts on the fact of its being a remake. It's a very lazy, very new ploy.