I saw the new Stepfather on DVD. I'm sure anyone who is reading this will ask me the most important question -- "Why?"
Because it's a pretty foolproof idea. A charming, wonderfully handsome and suave man (who also happens to be a serial killer) infiltrates the home of recently widowed women, befriends her and the family, marries her and then kills off the entire family, one after the other. After killing the families, he changes his appearance and goes out and kills again over and over and over.
I wanted to see what they would do with the remake. I groaned when I first heard someone was remaking it, not because the 1987 original was so good but because it was so unexpectedly not bad.
I'm a big, big fan of evil, charming figures infiltrating middle-America. I love Joseph Cotton in Shadow Of A Doubt and any good Hitchcock small town movie where the villain is horrifically kind and sweet. Evil with a smile is the best kind of evil there is. And the original Stepfather had a pretty great central performance in Terry O'Quinn. He was by turns charming, sweet and horribly evil.
Take a look at the original trailer. You can see how interesting O'Quinn is to watch:
And here is Joseph Cotton on "Shadow Of A Doubt":
Both actors had a great time in the parts. Tortured but kind. Sweet but conflicted. Lovers but murderers. Complex men, complex characters.
And the 1987 version had Shelley Hack getting the shit knocked out of here. How can you not love that?! In the new version Sela Ward gets the honors of being the seduced wife. I'm not saying Shelley Hack is a better actor than Sela Ward, but at least Hack has a wonderful kitch quality to her. She was a beautiful blond who was both awkward but fun to watch. Sela Ward barely cracks a smile. She's had so much plastic surgery and is shot through so much gauze, it's hard to see her face.
But we don't want The Stepfather for the wife. We watch the Stepfather for...
In the DVD commentary, director Nelson McCormick says he and the casting agent spent months auditioning men for the part of David Harris (isn't that a great, generic name?). He says they took a long time to find someone with the likability and depth to play the part.
I suppose it would be catty to write Nelson McCormick, a director of 'hard-hitting' TV shows looks like a middle-aged Southern California surfer boy who got lucky and is now rich directing TV shows and his first movie and I suppose it would be really catty to write how it's never a good sign when a director of a major movie remake peppers his language with 'totally' and 'awesome' so I won't write that, lest I come across as catty...
And I suppose it would be, like, totally catty to write the writer who wrote the remake is the author such classics as Sniper 3, Alien Hunter, Prom Night remake, Crash and Burn, Thunder Alley and many more (hey - at least the guy is working, that's for damn sure)...and it's probably not a good idea if the writer of the remake needs 3 other credited people to come up with the 'story' when the remake is a nearly literal location-for-location remake...
And I would be bitchy if wrote it's a good thing the original script author, Donald E. Westlake (yes, the same writer who wrote the nearly flawless The Grifters) , died in 2008 and wasn't around to see this remake hit the theaters. Donald E. Westlake who wrote nearly 45 mystery novels, many of them I've read and many of which are very fine indeed...
So I'll be nice and not write any of that.
Nelson and his crew looked high and low and they found their main character in the form of Dylan Walsh. While I have a sneaking suspicion Dylan Walsh is up for the challenge of the lead, we'll never know. Why?
Because he ain't the lead.
This guy is:
The actors 'name' is Penn Badgley. Don't you love that? Penn. Badgley. Like anyone is born with that name. Try to say the last name out loud. You can't. If I were his agent, I'd make him change his name. Why? Because the guy has something to him. Apparently he's done some bad TV, like Gossip Girl and such.
Sure, he's cute and scraggly and very heterosexual and clearly the 'bad boy' girls love to love, but if he wants to be taken seriously, the guy has GOT to change that name.
He is the lead in the Stepfather. He is often seen without his shirt, making out with his nearly nude 17 year old girlfriend. He is brooding and confused and more layered than the Stepfather.
Isn't it curious when writers make the wrong character the lead? When they give the main arc and thrust of the movie to the wrong character? This isn't a smart switch, like where the lead of Ordinary People is actually the Donald Sutherland character...no, this is just a big old mistake which, hopefully, pissed off this guy:
Oops! I was trying to get Dylan Walsh in the frame, but see how Penn snuck right back in?
Let's try to get Dylan in again.
Here we go:
Ugh! Sorry...just when I thought I could get Dylan Walsh in a picture alone, in comes Penn again!
Such is the problem with the new Stepfather. Poor Dylan Walsh is never given a chance to show his ability to play depth and complexity because Penn's character is the only one who can feel or show any emotion in the movie.
Oh, and Penn's character shows emotion once but only when there is rock music blaring in his ears, lets we think he is less than masculine or heterosexual.
The complexity and conflict of the main character has been entirely stripped away and all we get is either sweetness or evil. No grey area. It's not accident the famous tag line from this movie is "Who Am I Here?". It's terrifying and fascinating to watch this character lose all sense of WHO HE IS and his GRASP ON REALITY. That layered person is why the original film was so good.
Oh, and the fact it does turn pretty nasty pretty fast.
If the writers and the filmmakers had used that extremely revealing moment in the movie as the anchor for the rest of the movie, it would have been at least interesting to watch, but as it is now, it's dull and lifeless and one more pretty, unimpressive glossy remake from the increasingly desperate young Hollywood Dream Factory. It's all about money, money, money.
The scares are dull and oddly strangulation based. There was one famous murder at the center of the original Stepfather that was shocking and horribly funny. Nothing of the sort exists here. It's all illogical and frustrating.
The murders in the original were shot very realistically and, despite the fact they weren't extremely bloody, you felt true revulsion and horror when they happened...and you felt BAD for the main guy because you both liked him and hated him for what he was doing.
The problem here is Westlake relished the grey areas of watching the main character squirm and slowly lose his mind. He was a writer who liked suspense and humor. Not these guys. The director comes from TV and I'm very surprised he didn't stick more to the original main character.
Sad days continue in La-La Land...
Over and out...