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'The Stepfather' (2009) Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating


'The Stepfather' teaser movie poster.
© Screen Gems
Blended families can be a challenge, one rife with distrust, jealousy and...mass murder? That's the premise behind The Stepfather, a competent but by-the-numbers remake of a 1987 cult fave that's utterly predictable even for those who haven't seen the original.

The Plot

Grady Edwards, AKA David Harris (Dylan Walsh), is a man who values family, so much so that if he gets the sense that his isn't turning out to be the Ozzie and Harriet clan, he kills them and starts over in another town.

His newest target is divorcee Susan Harding (Sela Ward) and her three kids, including oldest son Michael (Penn Badgley), who has recently returned home from a year away at military school. For six months of dating, David seems like the perfect man, and he and Susan get engaged, despite misgivings by the ever-rebellious teen Michael.

As clues to David's true identity begin to pile up, though, so do the bodies of people who get too close to the truth. Michael becomes all the more suspicious when he hears about an America's Most Wanted episode profiling a "stepfather killer," but his girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard) tells him that he's overreacting. Michael, however, feels that he has to check out the locked cabinets David built in the basement, virtually ensuring that this family, like his last, won't work out for the killer formerly known as Grady.

The End Result

Dylan Walsh in 'The Stepfather'.

Dylan Walsh in 'The Stepfather'.

© Screen Gems
Even if it weren't a remake, The Stepfather would be about as predictable as thrillers come. This doesn't make it a bad movie, but the plot points are so cut-and-paste -- sort of like a high-end Lifetime Movie of the Week -- that you could spend half an hour in the bathroom and still know exactly what you missed ("Oh, he must've killed the old lady who was snooping around.").

With its hip modern trappings and a switch from the teen heroine of the original to a hero, the movie plays like Disturbia, with the mysterious stranger living inside the house instead of next door. Disturbia, though -- itself a remake of sorts (of Rear Window) -- had a level of freshness that The Stepfather lacks.

Walsh's lead as the smooth-talking stepdad is engaging enough to cover up some of the film's flaws, but his cool sociopathic approach lacks the maniacal element that made Terry O'Quinn's performance in the original iconic enough to launch two sequels. The cast as a whole is the high point of a film with few highlights.

The writer-director team of J.S. Cardone and Nelson McCormick previously worked on the Prom Night remake, and though The Stepfather outshines that effort in every way, it continues their run of perfunctory filmmaking -- lacking any genuine attempt at style, substance, innovation or edge (PG-13 alert!).

The story doesn't delve far enough into David's psyche to hammer home his objective, nor does it make the family rounded or likeable enough for us to care about their fate (Heard's character is literally there for just bikini and underwear shots). The direction, meanwhile, makes their fate even less compelling by failing to generate genuine thrills. The lifeless finale is emblematic of the film as a whole, seemingly edited down to limp, if watchable, pabulum.

The Skinny

Amber Heard and Penn Badgley in 'The Stepfather'.

Amber Heard and Penn Badgley in 'The Stepfather'.

© Screen Gems
  • Acting: B (Solid all around, helping to make the bland content palatable.)
  • Direction: C (Straightforward, lacking any real thrills or unique style.)
  • Script: C- (A shallow, predictable reinterpretation.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (Little to speak of.)
  • Overall: C (Little more than a big-screen TV movie of the week, with none of the original's cult appeal.)

The Stepfather is directed by Nelson McCormick and is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality.. Release date: October 16, 2009.

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