The Stepford Husbands (1999)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

The Stepford Wives

Revenge of
The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Children

The Stepford Husbands

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

The Knots Landing/Twin Peaks
crossover was not the hit the
networks were hoping for.
After the muddled disaster that was The Stepford Children it would take Hollywood nearly ten years to get up the nerve to make another muddled Stepford film. This time the victims of the Stepford process have been changed to men, but as usual the story is told from the perspective of a middle-aged woman. How does this work? Not very well.

Jodi Davison (Donna Mills) and her husband Mick (Michael Ontkean, from Twin Peaks) move to the quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut to get a new start. Mick is a novelist, and while his first book was successful, he has writer's block. So perhaps the quiet will help him work.

But Stepford is too quiet. Unnaturally so. The men of the town are docile and uninterested in sports, which makes Mick edgy. Jodi, who got the idea to move to the town from her friend Caroline (Cindy Williams), finds herself at a loss to explain it. At the same time Mick's one male friend in town, another new arrival, begins to show signs of job stress. The friend has a breakdown and is taken to the nearby Stepford Research Institute, the leading experts on treating "male dissociative personality disorder." When he comes back he is well behaved and doesn't enjoy watching sports anymore. So either he has gone through some sort of radical brain treatment, or he finally realized how boring televised baseball is.

"This planet Houston is
very strange indeed."
Then Mick begins to show signs of a breakdown, and Jodi looks into checking him into the clinic. But she doesn't really know what she's getting him into. Eventually this leads to a climax so boring and predictable that they could have included footage from any 1970's television action drama and we wouldn't have noticed the difference.

This film didn't really inspire feelings in us one way or another, other than the impulse to hit "stop" on the remote control. Despite an interesting cast that includes Sarah Douglas (from Superman II) and Louise Fletcher (Kai Winn from Star Trek: Deep Space 9), nothing really registers. The whole movie is dramatically confused, because it is attempting to portray Jodi as both the beneficiary and the victim of the Stepford process.

This movie was written by Jim and Ken Wheat, who seem to be going for a record for writing the greatest number of sequels no one wanted to see. They also wrote Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, The Fly II, The Birds II: Lands End, and It Came From Outer Space II. We would not be surprised to hear they were working on Piranha 3: The Nibbling, The Tower II: Twin Towers, and Nukie 2: Kill the Little Bastard Where He Stands.

Finally, somebody watches
Suddenly Susan.
The Wheats' script for The Stepford Husbands contains no surprises, other than the rather clever conceit that the Stepford Research Institute is in the old Men's Association. But it is never explained what happened to the Men's Association, or how the current regime came to power -- or even if there is a direct relationship at all.

At best, we can thank these writers for at least sticking to a fairly plausible concept for the behavior of the hubbies; the treatment doesn't involve brainwashing hairdryer attachments or fidgety robots, but rather some nasty electroshock (hypnotic?) treatment and lots of psychotropic drugs. Unfortunately, the drawbacks and side effects to the treatment are never explained very clearly. Sure, the men are pretty docile and all that pent-up aggression is bound to explode at some point, but in this story things come to a head when Jodi takes away Mick's "maintenance" medicine.

Shirley waited patiently for her
chance to unplug Squiggy's life support.
The kicker, where this film is concerned, is the fact that this is the only one of the four Stepford films with an upbeat ending. Intent on conforming to the expectations of their Lifetime channel audience, the filmmakers allow Mick and Jodi to practically ride off into the sunset together, curing Mick's writer's block in the bargain. This is the sort of thing that makes us throw our hands in the air and wonder if every horror film franchise degenerates into silly nonsense by the third film.

In an attempt to assuage our disappointment at the last three Stepford films, we compiled a list of the Stepford stories we would like to see:

The Stepford Mistresses - We're sorry, but sex with a robot partner is a subject that has to be addressed. Besides, if you're evil enough to convert your wife into the perfect domestic slave, why not keep a few robotic hussies on the side?

The Stepford Police - Busting those who commit crimes against fashion!

The Stepford Filmmakers - Seemingly oblivious of how bad it was, the cast and crew of Battlefield: Earth prepare a sequel.

The Stepford Friends - Oh wait, it's just called "Friends."

The Stepford Presidential Candidates - No one notices the difference.

Review date: 10/29/2000

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