The Stepford series of films appears to have hit bottom with The Stepford Children, the second sequel to the classic The Stepford Wives. This time around the men of Stepford have expanded their program of obedience adjustment to include their teenaged offspring. This is not by itself a bad idea for a film: recently David Nutter (the X-Files director best known in these parts for Trancers 4 and 5), took a stab at it. The resulting lackluster film was Disturbing Behavior -- and as mediocre as Disturbing Behavior was, it looks like Casablanca compared to The Stepford Children.
Just in case there are any viewers out there totally ignorant of what kind of place Stepford is, an early scene arrives to show that all is not well in this sleepy little town. One townsperson takes his teenaged son fishing, but once on the lake, three men in another boat grab the boy while his father looks on passively. Presumably, the sinister gents are taking the boy off to be converted into a cooperative little android. Considering that junior is wearing black high-tops, white socks, red parachute pants, a shirt too gaudy for Parker Lewis, and a Flock of Seagulls-style haircut, we don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. When somebody is showing such an advanced case of 1980's Fashion Syndrome, something must be done. Turning the blighter into a robot might even be a little bit lenient.
The Stepford Republicans.
Shortly thereafter the Harding family moves to Stepford, which is still allegedly located in Connecticut but filmed on the West Coast. Father Steven (Don Murray) actually lived in Stepford years ago, but he left after the mysterious death of his first wife. Now he's back with his new wife Laura (Barbara Eden, no pink harem girl outfits in sight) and two children, David (Randall Batinkoff) and Mary (Tammy Lauren). The children are also in the advanced stages of 1980s Fashion Syndrome. David wears a leather coat, sweatshirts with the collars torn off, a Karate Kid headband, and sunglasses at night. Mary has her hair teased out farther than Londo Mollari, and shows a preference for wearing her belt over her shirt. If these two were left untreated, they would eventually become the band Animotion.
David and Mary go to school, and feel a bit out of place at Stepford High, where Ozzie and Harriet apparently formulated the fashions. The classes are a bit strange too. Mary is forced to attend a cooking class taught by James Coco. (For those of you too young of too fortunate to remember James Coco, he was Dom Deluise Lite). But David does meet a nice girl (oddly enough, that's defined in this movie as "dresses like a tramp") named Sandy.
Cher on any given Thursday.
Love blooms, but when Sandy's Rhoda Morgensternish mother changes into a Stepford wife, David and Sandy decide to get out of Dodge on their motorcycles. When a car pursues them down "Canyon Road," David loses his cool and gets too far ahead of Sandy, whose girly bike can't keep up. A crash results, but before Pearl Jam can record a song about it, Sandy is taken to the hospital. David sneaks into the hospital and makes a horrible discovery....
Sounds like a pretty logical plot for a movie called The Stepford Children, right? All this stuff does happen in this movie, but that's not the focus of the film. This movie has been aired on the Lifetime Network, which is a dead giveaway that (like every movie ever shown on the Lifetime Network) it is told from the perspective of a fretful mother. So we as viewers actually find ourselves watching Barbara Eden as Laura give the kind of performance only an ex-novelty sitcom actress can give. We watch Laura fret, jog, fret, get friendly with Sandy's mom, fret, try to form a PTA, fret, engage in some grave robbing, and fret some more. Against all this, the titular children seem like an afterthought.
And that's when scientists
discovered what was causing
the hole in the ozone layer.
By the climactic final scene, this movie had engendered a large amount of malice in us because of the wasted potential here. It would have been nice to see a Stepford movie told from some other perspective than that of a middle-aged woman. The original movie was clearly allegorical on some levels, but all the sequels are very literal indeed, and none of them seem to know what to do with the material. The fact that Steven left Stepford, apparently because of what happened to his first wife, offered a good opportunity to explore how having a Stepford wife might affect the husband. Are these avenues explored? Of course not! Much like its immediate predecessor, The Stepford Children teases us with the knowledge that something is happening, but we never learn enough to care. Kids are carted off and brought back "perfect," sure, but how do they get that way? For all we know, they're acting this way because the Men's Association offered them a puppy for good behavior.
Tragically, the Al Gorebot
was activated too soon.
Does it sound like we're repeating our complaints about The Revenge of the Stepford Wives? There's a reason for that. The Stepford Children makes all the same mistakes and it doesn't even offer the acting talent that Revenge had! We would say that the law of diminishing returns was in effect here, except for the fact there's plenty of interesting subject matter still left to explore in the concept.
Last time we theorized that there must be Stepford Audiences who put up with crap cinema like this. Now we're thinking there must also be Stepford Screenwriters and Stepford Directors who put out films for Hollywood executives, keeping productions under budget and on time at the expense of all the things that make movies fun to watch.
Dear filmmakers: We know darn well that you are never actually going to make a movie set in Connecticut on location in Connecticut. We realize that for economic reasons this movie was probably shot somewhere in California. But please, please, if you want us to believe that a movie is set in Connecticut, dont have a car chase on "Canyon Road." That's a common street name in California, but a completely unknown one in Connecticut. Connecticut has river valleys and yuppies, California has canyons and movie stars. Go back!
Upon investigating the grave of her husband's previous wife, she finds a perfectly preserved, mannequin-like corpse, the skull of which pops open and begins spewing sparks. First off, why bother burying a robot? And if you're going to do that, why leave the batteries in the darn thing? Go back, our heads hurt.