Stepfather, The (2009)


The Stepfather (2009) ReviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Dylan Walsh, Penn Badgely, Sela Ward, Amber Heard, Paige Turcco

Directed by Nelson McCormick

The remake of The Stepfather is about as worthless a Hollywood remake as you are ever going to see.

First and foremost, Dylan Walsh is no Terry O’Quinn. Not by a long shot. A tremendous amount of the 1987 original’s success was due to the nuanced performance of Terry O’Quinn as a psychopath obsessed with having a perfect family. A tremendous amount of the remake’s failure is due Walsh’s inability to exude even an ounce of the believable menace or mental instability that O’Quinn did. The star of Congo and “Nip/Tuck” comes across about as threatening as the typical abusive husband in a Lifetime Network movie.

The Lifetime comparison is quite befitting this. I was left feeling like I had just watched a lame Lifetime Network TV movie desperately trying to appeal to the younger Disturbia audience. Disturbia obviously had more influence over the direction of the remake than did the original on which it is based. For example, Disturbia concluded with the son having to rescue his mom and his girlfriend from the killer in a basement setting. Here the son has to rescue his mom and his girlfriend from the killer in the attic.

Place the blame squarely on the shoulders of writer-producer JS Cardone and director Nelson McCormick, the same duo behind last year’s dreadful Prom Night remake. McCormick’s flat direction proves incapable of manufacturing a single moment of tension no matter how much the annoying score tries to convince you that something suspenseful is occurring or is about to happen. That is when he isn’t loading the soundtrack up with emo songs rejected from the Twilight soundtrack and falling back on teen angst and dysfunctional family melodramatics at their most tepid.

The Stepfather (2009) ReviewI don’t know JS Cardone. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow and professional to work with. But as a screenwriter, the man is the absolute pits. He wrote The Covenant, the Prom Night remake, and now he has taken everything that made the original Stepfather effective and chucked it out the window in favor of a dull thriller every bit as insipid as it is predictable.

Not to mention also making it as toothless as PG-13 horror gets. The film opens with Walsh making his exit after having murdered his last family; the bodies of the wife and kids lay dead around the Christmas tree. Don’t write dialogue describing a crime scene as bloody after you’ve already shown us the bloodless crime scene. Then, after having established that the killer’s m.o. is to slaughter the entire family when he moves on – kids and all – the finale has the youngest son and daughter spending the night elsewhere out of harm’s way. All things considered, this could just as easily be attributed to Cardone’s piss poor writing as it could his not wanting to risk the PG-13 rating by putting small children in peril.

Single divorcee Susan (Sela Ward, who deserves better than this) thinks she has met the perfect man in David Harris, a widower that has just moved to Oregon to start a new life. What neither she nor her three kids know is that for him starting a new life actually means finding a new family to make into his vision of a perfect family unit, and if that doesn’t work out, he’ll just have to cancel the newspaper and kill them all before modifying his appearance, changing his name, and trying again elsewhere.

Troubled eldest son Michael (Penn Badgely, AKA Shia LeFaux) has just returned from military school and senses something isn’t quite right about this man his mom is planning to marry after only knowing him for six months. Michael gets accused of just not being keen on having a stepfather, but then strange behavior and mental missteps on David’s part lead to greater suspicions and constant staredowns across the dinner table.

Susan’s ex-husband and her lesbian sister also come to conclude that David is hiding something. The crazy cat lady across the street even gets in on the act, telling Susan that her husband-to-be looks an awful lot like this mass murderer she saw profiled on “America’s Most Wanted” the other night.

The Stepfather (2009) ReviewAll these people wanting to do background checks, Michael increasingly convinced David is the family killer profiled on “America’s Most Wanted”. Why not just contact “America’s Most Wanted” and report him? They’ll send out a cop. He’ll do the investigating for you. You can even do it anonymously so that nobody knows you made the call. What’s the worst that could happen? Police prove he’s not the killer once and for all, or he is the killer and gets arrested before anyone else gets killed? That cannot happen when the script is written by idiots, for idiots, about idiots. Why do something so simple and logical when you can smash a window to break into your own basement during a raging thunderstorm in order to bash open a mysterious padlocked cabinet, all the while trying to not to make too much noise to disturb the possible killer upstairs?

Amber Heard of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is Michael’s girlfriend Kelly. She is less a character than a body to be objectified. She has a line telling Michael that she likes it when he looks at her. I think that was Cardone’s way of trying to justify why Heard spends most of the movie either in a bikini or in her underwear – not that I’m complaining. But the big dramatic moment when Michael looks at that sketch on the “America’s Most Wanted” website and fully realizes that his mom’s fiance is this family killer, a look of horror fills his face, the music swells ominously, and the director immediately cuts too … a near full-screen shot of Amber Heard’s bikini bottomed ass strutting past the pool. Seriously?

Badgely is also filmed frequently shirtless and wet. He and Heard spend an inordinate amount of time lounging by or swimming in the pool, engaging in make-out sessions and exchanging dialogue that does little to advance the mystery. That so much emphasis is placed on showcasing their beach bodies speaks volumes as to how superficial and empty this entire remake is and was designed to be from the get-go.

Even if you have never seen the original Stepfather and can divorce yourself from the fact that this is a remake, this movie is still a pitifully bad thriller that cannot even be salvaged on camp value level like the cheesy Obsessed was earlier this year.

Just awful. Awful. Awful. Awful.

1 out of 5

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