Directed by: Nelson McCormick (Prom Night)
Starring: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield
What exactly is there to be said about this utterly worthless, incredibly dull, addle-brained waste of 101 minutes except that it’s an utterly worthless, incredibly dull, addle-brained waste of 101 minutes? That pretty much says it all. The 1987 original may have been no great shakes, but it was at least amusingly subversive exploitation trash. This, on the other hand, is simply trash that pretends to be something else. It’s kind of like the Weekly World News claiming to be the New York Times—and about as persuasive a pose.
The story line is roughly the same as the original. You have a homicidal nutcase, David Harris (Dylan Walsh, TV’s Nip Tuck), going around marrying into what he imagines to be perfect families—or families he can make “perfect.” When the families turn out not to meet his standards, he casually offs them and moves on to the next one. That’s about it. When it was made 22 years ago, it had a certain point. We were then in the age of Ronald Reagan’s 1950s Disneyfied dream of an America that never was, and the nebulous term “family values” was common coin. About the only films that tackled this topic were more or less of the exploitation variety, like Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion (1984) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), along with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). Though not in the same league as those titles, the original Stepfather was part of that reaction. What we have here is a superfluous PG-13 retread—and a bad one at that.
Considering that the film tells us exactly what Harris is and establishes his modus operandi in the very first scene—a kind of TV hack director’s notion of something “chilling”—there’s not much in the way of surprise about where the movie is going. Naturally, that means it’s going to take forever to get there. So we trudge our way, through the return of wayward 22-year-old high-school junior Michael Harding (Penn Badgley, TV’s Gossip Girl) from a stint at military school, and into the arms of his 22-year-old high-school junior girlfriend, Kelly (Amber Heard, Zombieland), and that of his family. (Since both Badgley and Heard appear to have been cast for their toned physiques, count on much beef and cheesecake.)
Poor Michael finds that mom Susan (Sela Ward, The Day After Tomorrow) has hooked up with serial killer David and is rightly skeptical. Mom, however, is dazzled. Mom is an idiot. Five seconds of David should be enough to clue in even the most vacuous specimen of humanity that the guy is trying to sell you his used car or his religion or some load of clams. Of course, the entire film only functions on the idea that no one involved is capable of anything tougher in the reasoning department than tying a shoelace. The dullest mayhem imaginable follows at the pace of a very old snail.
Some marginal amusement may be derived from the film’s climax, which feels more than a little derivative of another dreadful thriller from earlier this year, Obsessed. The manner in which The Stepfather seems to be working on a dumb thriller checklist—killer left for dead without making sure, killer disappears over edge of roof so arm can appear out of nowhere etc.—is admittedly funny, but not funny enough to outweigh the tedium. Even if you see this thing for free, you’ll be overcharged. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality.