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Extreme Makeover 

The Stepford Wives is the best bad movie you will see this summer. If that doesn't exactly sound like a semantic match made in heaven, try this one on for size: screenwriter Paul Rudnick's script is both zanily smart and shockingly dumb, sometimes at the exact same moment. So why is it so easy to like?

For starters, it's love at first title sequence, an opening '50s-esque montage so artful and visually witty its creators, Big Film Design, deserve mention by name. The film's art direction by the infallible Peter Rogness (Catch Me If You Can, Far From Heaven) takes it from there, providing all the clever coherence absent from the film's sorry script. Then, there is the immense enjoyability of the assembled cast. Nicole Kidman's television executive-turned-housewife Joanna Eberhart is almost a grown-up version of the actress' turn as the single-minded Suzanne Stone of Gus Van Sant's To Die For. Matthew Broderick does less with less, his empty-headed, downtrodden Walter a sweet, if vacant, presence. Bette Midler is Bette Midler and charmingly so, but the real stars are Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, who, as Stepford's first couple, ride this farcical film with gleeful abandon as it spirals further and further out of control.

And what a ride it is. Stepford 2004 is only a kissing cousin of Stepford 1975. As rejiggered as the idealized suburban wives of novelist Ira Levin's imagination, this newer version sports a decidedly different vibe, with creepy suspense giving way to hopped-up hilarity. Director Frank Oz's new tone works for the most part, especially since most audiences are so familiar with the gist of the story. Not content with a simple narrative retread, however, Oz and Rudnick build quite quickly to an ending so outlandish it has more in common with Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! than with its eponymous predecessor. Ultimately, the problem is that, while there's nothing wrong with a little summer-blockbuster suspension of reality, Stepford doesn't even attempt to sustain a semblance of internal logic. Rudnick's many one-liners, crafty and darkly humorous as they might be, must fight his positively voraginous plot holes for primacy, and it's too hard to say which wins. Still, there is something refreshing about seeing a film that thinks it has wisdom to impart about the downside of homogenization and perfection embody its own message so messily well.


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