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The Stepfather (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/9/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2010

Is the remake trend slowing down? Has Hollywood finally gotten the message? Early in 2009, I felt as if I was reviewing a remake every week, but checking the old review calendar, there hasn't been an official remake review at DVD Sleuth since The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 back in early November. (I'm not counting Halloween II, as that was only a remake in name only (and a travesty) or The Echo, as that wasn't a Hollywood movie). But, the fad clearly isn't over, as someone felt inclined to remake the 1987 cult classic The Stepfather.

As The Stepfather remake opens, we watch Grady Edwards (Dylan Walsh) seemingly give himself a makeover. He shaves his beard, dyes his hair, and then packs a bag. As he makes breakfast and leaves the house, we see that the downstairs is littered with dead bodies. Months later, we see the same man in a grocery store, but he is now going by the name David Harris. There, he meets Susan Harding (Sela Ward) and two of her children -- Beth (Skyler Samuels) and Sean (Braeden Lemasters). Soon, Susan and David are dating and he moves in with her. Susan's oldest son, Michael (Penn Badgley), who has been away at boarding school (due to discipline problems), comes home for summer vacation, where he's anxiously greeted by his girlfriend, Kelly (Amber Heard). Michael isn't sure about David, but he's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for his mother's sake. Susan helps David get a new job, and with Michael now home, everything seems good. But, Michael notices that David's stories about his life aren't always consistent and the row of locked cabinets in the basement is suspicious. As Michael digs deeper into David's life, David begins to lose his grip on reality.

The Stepfather remake comes to us from Director Nelson McCormick and Writer/Producer J.S. Cardone, the same team which brought us the reprehensible remake of Prom Night. I'm happy to report that The Stepfather is a better movie than Prom Night, but that's not saying much, as Prom Night was a true stinker. With The Stepfather, McCormick and Cardone at least did the right thing by trying to stick closer to the original film's story.

As with most remakes, one's enjoyment of The Stepfather is going to depend on whether or not you've seen the original movie and what you thought about it. I've seen the original and it's one of my favorite underrated movies from the 80s, so I have trouble even getting past the idea of why anyone would want to remake it. And, given my feelings about the original, it was difficult to not see tons of flaws with this new film.

The biggest problem with The Stepfather is the casting. I've liked Dylan Walsh in other things, but he's just not right for this role. I can only assume that the filmmakers were going for an "everyman" type, and while Walsh fits that bill, that's not what this role needs. Looking at the original film, Terry O'Quinn is so nerdish and straight-laced that when he talks about old fashioned values and the perfect family, we truly believe it. We know that he's a killer and we know that he's crazy and when he talks about wanting a family, we know that it's all part of his obsession. But, he comes across as such a nice guy that we almost forget that part. Thus, when he snaps, it's all the more shocking. Walsh's character feels more like a slimeball who gets into people's lives to use them. We never get the feeling that he's there to create a happy family. The big difference between the two films is that the primary child has been changed from a girl to a boy. (In the original, the mother had only one child.) Having David as opposed to Stephanie creates an Oedipal issue and should make for a more interesting story. However, Penn Badgley brings in an incredibly weak performance and there is zero conflict between Michael and David.

The Stepfather's other major problem is something which hampers a lot of remakes. As they have (relatively) bigger budgets than the originals, they want to make things "bigger". But, as we know, bigger isn't always better. Cardone has attempted to shove too many characters and subplots into the movie and this dilutes the story. In the original, only a few people suspected "the stepfather" of being someone else, and that was enough to keep him busy covering his tracks. Here, we've got Michael, his girlfriend, Susan's ex-husband, Susan's sister, and a nosy neighbor. This stretches the story too far and damages the film's credibility. The movie also botches the part of the story which foreshadows David's coming breakdown. The finale attempts to echo the violence of the original film, but we are left with only a silly power-tool fight and a ridiculous coda.

So, as you can most likely see, I wasn't impressed with this remake. If you haven't seen the original, you will still find yourself faced with a very pedestrian film. We know from the outset that David is a murderer, and, so, we sit and wait for him to kill again or get caught. Unfortunately, this waiting produces no suspense and annoying characters. Just tell this stepfather that you're not ready to start dating again.

The Stepfather leaves a lucrative real estate job on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc houses an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the daytime scenes are incredibly crisp. The nighttime scenes are a tad dark. The image shows a nice amount of detail and the depth is slightly above average. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the fact that the Mbps is a bit lower than most Sony DTS-HD MA tracks, the sound here is still pretty good. The finale features action scenes and a thunder storm, so we are treated to good surround sound and subwoofer effects which never overpower the dialogue. The in-film music sounds fine and the stereo effects are good.

The Stepfather Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Nelson McCormick and actors Penn Badgley and Dylan Walsh. "Open House: Making the Film" (20 minutes) contains comments from the cast and filmmakers, along with some on-set footage. They discuss the reasons for remaking the movie (which are vague), the story, and the characters. "Visualizing the Stunts" (12 minutes) has Stunt Coordinator Mike Smith walking us through the action scenes in the film, complete with rehearsal footage. We get a 5-minute GAG REEL. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, followed by six TV SPOTS.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long