Mrs. Roboto

The Stepford Wives

Rated 3.0 As an updated remake of the 1970s film of Ira Levin’s novel, Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wives holds its own as a wry, mildly prickly comedy about a range of topical issues—the gender wars in particular, but also technology and “human engineering,” the desire for perfection, the power-tripping of corporate types, feminist backlash, the pursuit of bliss through medication and electronics, and an ominous variation on the revenge of the nerds.

The movie’s Stepford is a gated suburban utopia to which well-to-do couples retreat with aims of restoring balance and bliss to their marriages. But many of the resident wives seem strangely uniform in behavior and appearance, and the couple in charge (Glenn Close and Christopher Walken) behave with a faintly menacing hauteur toward the new arrivals (Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick) and misfits like the undomesticated novelist (Bette Midler) who befriends the new pair.

Psycho-sexual impulses and a species of sci-fi gimmickry figure prominently in the underlying machinations in Stepford’s spuriously elite world. But the film’s hit-and-miss satirical jibes score entertaining points without ever really drawing blood, let alone achieving overall coherence. And the late-emerging emphasis on powerful successful women with dweebishly successful husbands narrows the field of reference nearly to the point of self-cancellation.

Close, Walken, Midler and Jon Lovitz have some giddy comic moments, while Broderick and Kidman manage some nicely nuanced moments of cluelessness. And there’s a special zinger via Roger Bart, as one-half of a lone gay couple, who buy into the Stepford program as eagerly as any of the others.