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Movie Review: The Stepfather (2009)

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In 1987 Terry O'Quinn (Lost) took to the screen as a character that became something of a cult icon — a killer that has thoughts of the perfect family on his mind. If they don't measure up to his high standards or they get too close to learning the truth of his murderous past, he simply kills them, adjusts his look, and moves on to a new town and another potential winning family.

It was not a big hit upon its original release, but it has gathered a following over the years. Unfortunately, this is another one of those films that I have not seen, although I think I probably should, if for nothing else than to see O'Quinn before his career exploded.

Why the talk of this 22-year-old film? Well, it has become the latest casualty of the remake/brand recognition mentality that has completely infected the studio system. It often seems that if a property is to be developed for a feature film everybody must already be familiar with what it is about, otherwise no one will go see it. I know this is not true. You know this is not true. The suits, however, do not seem to know.

So, we have this remake of the The Stepfather. Without ever seeing a frame you can tell it is not going to be any good. There are a number of signs pointing towards this fact. First, it is a remake of a film that doesn't really need it, although this can be said of the majority of remakes. Second, it is a PG-13 film, meaning they are looking to get a wider audience than an R rating would permit. Finally the most telling hint is the choice of director. Nelson McCormick was selected to sit in the director's chair.

Why is this such a big indicator? The man chosen is not a director of vision, nor is he an up and coming filmmaker with something to prove. McCormick is no Rob Zombie (Halloween), Gore Verbinski (The Ring), or Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead). No, indeed. McCormick has spent most of his career on the small screen where he seems to be best suited. His biggest big screen credit? The horror remake Prom Night. You would have thought someone would have checked before signing him. Then again, proof positive that there was no interest in making this anything more than a play for cash.

I am sure you are wondering why I saw it. I am not sure I can answer. It was something I felt compelled to see. Perhaps I wanted to take the bullet for the rest of you. Well, that can't be right — if that were true I would have seen it opening weekend. In any case, I have seen it and I can confirm that it is an extraordinarily dull affair during which little happens and people insist on doing the opposite of what logic would appear to dictate.

The film opens with our resident killer, played by Dylan Walsh. It is Christmas time and we watch as he cuts off his beard, dyes his hair, and puts in colored contacts. He calmly walks downstairs and makes some toast before picking up a couple of bags and leaving. During his exit, we see the bodies of a woman and children around the house. It is pretty clear what happened here.

We jump ahead to find our killer, formerly known as Grady Edwards, using the name David Harris and flirting with recent divorcee Susan Harding (Sela Ward). All seems fine and dandy until son Michael (Penn Badgely) returns from military school. He senses something is not right. Soon enough there are enough pieces in place for an explosive finale where "David's" murderous tendencies are revealed.

This is a movie I would like to just push completely from my memory. Yes, I have seen worse movies so you will not hear me say this is the worst ever made. I think it commits an even bigger sin than a good number of so-called bad movies — it's boring. The film looks boring, all of the characters (save for Dylan Walsh) have zero personality, the story is not interesting, and it offers up nothing new.

The Stepfather does offer a number of lessons. Take the title, for example. The character is not even close to actually being a stepfather — the characters aren't married. You also do not need any identification to acquire a marriage license or to work in real estate. I also learned it is all right to keep locked cabinets with unknown contents in the home of a woman you have only known for six months. Another good lesson is if you suspect someone may be a murderer and you have evidence, be sure to not call the police.

The best thing I learned from The Stepfather is that it is absolutely imperative that Amber Heard remain in a bikini, or some attire that requires very little material. I mean, she does not have much to do, so why not? I am sure it will help keep some of the audience awake.

The brightest spot of the movie is Dylan Walsh. It appears that he recognized the fact the movie was not going to be good and adjusted his performance accordingly. He chews the scenery like there is no tomorrow. He is either the over-friendly family guy or the twisted-faced psycho. He makes it work when nothing else does. Unfortunately, it is not enough to make this worth watching.

Bottom line. This is an utter bore. There is no reason to see this film. Yes, I knew going in, but what can I say? I am not sure I could defend seeing this movie. My best recommendation is to avoid it, but if you must see it, pay attention to Amber Heard and Dylan Walsh, the film's best assets.

Not Recommended.

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