The Stepford Wives
Directed by Frank Oz
Written by Paul Rudnick from the novel by Ira Levin
Starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick


The Stepford Wives

Picture "The Stepford Wives" as a fantasy of Homer Simpson's, in which Marge suddenly is turned into the perfect Eisenhower-era wifely helpmeet, eager to do the dishes, wash the clothes, compliment Homer on anything and everything he does, and give Bart and Lisa exciting school lunches every day. And in that fantasy every other wife and mother in Springfield is exactly like Marge. That show would be a nice, and appropriate, satire on the worst tendencies in American life and culture - a pre-feminist male fantasy in which women exist only to serve their men - the kind of comment "The Simpsons" has made so well over the years.

Unfortunately that's not the new version of the Ira Levin novel and the 1975 movie, this time written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Frank Oz. Sadly, the film doesn't know whether to be a satire, a family soap opera or a horror show. It starts out well, with Nicole Kidman (and is there anything this actress can't do?) as a television network president fired because one of her reality shows, called "I Can Do Better," backfires when a jilted husband (his wife decides she can do better) opens fire on everyone in the studio. After a nervous breakdown she and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two kids move to the perfect Connecticut town of Stepford, where they will be out of the rat race and can renew their fraying marriage.

But Stepford is a strange place; all the women look like Betty Crocker and all the men wear Stepford blazers and hang out in the Men's Center while their wives happily cook, clean and live just to please them. Only the slovenly Markowitzes (Jon Lovitz and Bette Midler) are normal, and they aren't so for very long. What's going on here? You already know, if you've seen the trailer, and the rest of the film - already short at 93 minutes including the closing credits - drags like some epic your wife's cousin's nephew shot about the history of every house on his block and then insists on showing you at the family's Thanksgiving party.

Because Paul Rudnick is a witty man he's come up with some very charming throwaway lines (one Stepford wife had been the head of AOL; someone else asks whether that's why the women are so slow). But by the climax, when all is revealed and then revealed again, our eyes are riveted to our watches, checking that slow-moving second hand in hopes that the end will in fact be near. Perhaps the best two minutes in the film come before it starts, with the dazzling opening credits by New York's Big Film Design, the company that devised the credits for "Chicago," and does them for the Coen Brothers' and Spike Lee's films. You should feel free to leave after seeing them.