Few movies enter the summer movie sweepstakes with as much negative buzz as Frank Oz's remake of The Stepford Wives (PG-13). The production has been riddled with personal differences between several stars and Oz, who's used to directing puppets for the Muppets, plus a nagging suspicion that the film didn't turn out as anyone hoped.
Nicole Kidman wanted to withdraw from the project when John Cusack was replaced in the role of her husband by Matthew Broderick. Christopher Walken and Bette Midler had tiffs with the director over, as movie folks say, creative differences. Production was briefly interrupted when Oz was too stressed to continue. Kidman stuck around, Midler and Walken calmed down, and Broderick must be wondering if Kidman approves of co-starring with him in the screen adaptation of his Broadway smash, The Producers.
After preview screenings of The Stepford Wives tested poorly with audiences, Oz called everyone back for an additional two months of shooting, essentially making over a movie that's about very extreme makeovers.
In 1975, the plot of The Stepford Wives was eerily relevant to the battle between the sexes. Katharine Ross played Joanna Eberhart, a housewife whose pristine new neighborhood was a coverup for brainwashing techniques that left women docile, obedient and sexually available at all times to their husbands.
Kidman takes that role, which has been updated. Joanna is now a TV executive recovering from a nervous breakdown - Hollywood still can't have successful women feel too happy. Moving to Stepford brings drastic changes to her marriage and possibly her personality.
Rather than the original's darkly understated tone, Oz's version is brighter and broader, judging from preview trailers. The supporting cast - Walken acting weird, Midler acting crazy, Glenn Close, Jon Lovitz and country music singer Faith Hill barely acting - appears to be playing it as sci-fi comedy rather than social satire. Women have come a long way, baby, since Ira Levin wrote his novel.
The Stepford Wives was not screened locally in time for a Weekend review, so one will be published Friday on page 2B.
OPENING WEDNESDAY: World travel, economy class
Not a single Academy Award winner for best picture has been remade for the big screen until now. Not that many modern moviegoers would know that Around the World in 80 Days won that prize in 1957.
It isn't as if director Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer) is reprising Gone with the Wind or Casablanca here. The original version starring David Niven as global adventurer Phileas Fogg and Mexican actor Cantinflas as his loyal butler, Passepartout, was a splashy romp with big-name cameos and a charismatic producer, Mike Todd, who created his own 70mm projection format, Todd-AO, trying to outdo Cinerama. That Todd was married to Liz Taylor at the time didn't hurt his chances with Oscar voters.
Now Jules Verne's book is merely an excuse for another Jackie Chan movie. Chan makes Passepartout the central figure, while someone named Steve Coogan takes over for the inimitable Niven as Fogg. They still sail a hot air balloon around the world to win a wager from stuffy types, like Jim Broadbent, who say it can't be done. We'll still see celebrity cameos, although swapping Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Marlene Dietrich for Rob Schneider, Macy Gray and Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a fair trade.
Around the World in 80 Days opens Wednesday. A review will be published that day.