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.