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Posted: Thursday, July 1st 2004 at 12:10pm

The Stepford Wives ****

By by Bill Wilson
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Bill Wilson
I doubt that Ira Levin would think much of this new adaptation of one of his male-bashing trilogy (along with "The Boys of Brazil" and "Rosemary's Baby"). That's because the major theme of the film is not the corruptibility of testosterone, but rather the present-day inconsequentiality of the source material.

Is there anyone who doesn't know the story of "The Stepford Wives?" I mean, where have you been? In addition to the book and the first movie, there have been sequels, "Revenge of the Stepford Wives," "The Stepford Husbands" and even (with Barbara Eden and Don Murray, no less) "The Stepford Children." Do you not have Lifetime?

Anyway, director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick start with the premise that we already know what goes on in the quiet gated community of Stepford, Connecticut. So they wisely opt to have some fun with the premise. What happens when Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, and "The Producers"' Roger Bart are the outsiders looking in?

Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close and Jon Lovitz provide more than able support; Broderick is Kidman's hubby, Walken and Close, the first family of Stepford, and Lovitz plays the divine Mr. M.

In this version, Kidman plays ousted reality queen Joanne Eberhard, jobless after a former contestant goes nuts with a handgun at a network upfront presentation (I've thought about doing that, as a matter of fact).

Midler is Bobbie Markowitz, author of a tell-all volume about her mother, "I Love You, But Please Die." The funniest part in the film involves her response to pine-cone Christmas decorations, which I won't spoil for you here.

The climax involves not a single, but a double twist ending that manages to surprise and actually step up the camp and humor quotient for the remaining moments of the film.

A minor quibble: Joanna and Walter have two children, cursorily introduced, and then ignored, apparently serving only as a way, later on, to get Joanna to the men's club. Why bother with them?

Paramount showed savvy during the previews, with an outstanding trailer of Denzel Washington's impending remake of another classic thriller "The Manchurian Candidate." This one bears watching.

So does "The Stepford Wives." Why bother remaking a film that's close to thirty years old, unless you've got a new spin? The filmmakers have a new spin. And it's a wild ride.
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