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Release Date: February 9th, 2010 Movie Release Year: 2009

The Stepfather

Overview -

Michael Harding (Penn Badgley) returns home from military school to find his mother (Sela Ward) happily in love and living with her new boyfriend, David (Dylan Walsh). As the two men get to know each other, Michael becomes more and more suspicious of the man who is always there with a helpful hand. Is he really the man of her dreams or could David be hiding a dark side?

OVERALL:
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Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region A
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
102
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.40:1
Audio Formats:
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles/Captions:
English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Special Features:
TV Spots
Release Date:
February 9th, 2010

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Why bother coming up with original ideas when you can just remake stuff?

This, unfortunately, is the proverbial thinking in Hollywood, and the reason we're saddled with so many doomed and desperate remakes, reboots, and adaptations of old television shows. Because to much of Hollywood, the masses are only interested in passing recognition. They want us to say "Oh! I remember that old videogame/cartoon/advertising jingle – I'll go see the big budget Hollywood remake!"

One such remake is 'The Stepfather,' a movie from last year that's oh-so-loosely based on a superb little chiller starring the man-soon-to-be-known-as-John-Locke Terry O'Quinn from 1987. As explained on the special features of this disc, the producer had seen 'The Stepfather' on a list of the scariest movies of all time. He had never heard of it. So he watched it, bought the rights, and decided to produce a crappy movie. To think that this is how this stuff really works is sort of beyond belief.

Anyway, this new version of 'The Stepfather,' starts off a lot like the original, with a man (here played by 'nip/tuck's' Dylan Walsh) murdering an entire family and calmly walking out the front door, to start a new life with another family. In the original it was chilling and a punchy start to a movie, here the death tableau that the filmmakers set up seems more set dressed than genuinely disturbing. Anyway, we see him changing his appearance and then are thrust forward several months, to when he meets Sela Ward, a recent divorcee with some domestic troubles. Walsh seems to be the perfect husband – a loving, caring, genuinely good guy. There are some glaring red flags that even a desperate divorcee would probably notice, like how he doesn't have any credit cards and refuses to work a real job. Anyway, Sela Ward's son (Penn Badgley) comes home from military school and becomes skeptical of his soon-to-be-stepfather. From there we get a series of preposterous suspense set pieces that don't thrill as much as gently lull to sleep, culminating in a series of unconvincing murders. It's all been there, done that, with very little freshness or innovation or even basic imagination.

The movie is so dull, plodding, and obvious, in fact, that I started counting the different bikinis worn by Penn Badgley's girlfriend (Amber Heard). I counted four. This is a girl in high school, and not only in high school but supposedly living in the sunshine-y town of Portland, Oregon, and she has four bathing suits? Really? This is not to complain about having Heard walk around in a bikini for three fourths of the movie. In fact, this is one of the highlights. But it's also highlighting one of the more preposterous elements of an already preposterous movie.

Most of the actors seem bored, the direction is slack and tensionless, and the production design and cinematography, while slick, are mostly anonymous. Part of me wants someone to grab Brian De Palma out of whatever hole he's hiding in, hand him the rights to one of these remakes and have him go hog wild. The only way these things work is if someone imbibes them with some kind of freshness or stylistic boldness, which does not happen here.

People forget that the immortal thriller novelist Donald Westlake wrote the script for the original 1987 original, which had a fair amount of class and some interesting character moments. All of that has been jettisoned from the remake.

It should be noted that the version of the film presented here is the 'unrated' version. There is no other option as to how to watch the film, and considering I did not waste my time with this thing in the theater, I have no idea how it differs from its theatrical presentation. I can tell you, pretty assuredly, that this thing is so tame that I'm shocked it even managed to pull down a PG-13.

Next.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The movie starts automatically and plays some stupid previews for intellectual stimulating material like 'Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.' Oy. The Blu-ray disc is 50GB and Region "A" locked.

Video Review

Ranking:

At least 'The Stepfather' looks good on this Blu-ray disc. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (in the original theatrical aspect ration of 2.40:1) looks pretty solid, especially given the film's overall lack of defining visual characteristics.

Detail is good, textures look great, and colors pop (sometimes too much, as is the case with the thimbleful of blood that's actually spilled). The image is rather clear, so you can really take in all those shots of Amber Heard in her bathing suit (or, when she's talking to her boyfriend on the phone, in her underwear) for the visual majesty they possess.

There's a fine layer of grain that doesn't distract but goes a long way to making the movie look more movie-like, since it's got all the oomph of a television show. The one caveat is that the black levels are sometimes softer than they ought to be, which is a shame considering this is a thriller and a premium is placed on atmospheric moodiness.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Just as blah as the visuals is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This is very strong proof that just because it's a DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't mean that it's going to dazzle or delight.

While the basics of this mix are strong enough – dialogue is always discernable, and well prioritized to boot, there are smatterings of atmospherics and use of the surround channels – there's nothing all that bold or noteworthy about it. This is, after all, a suspense film, where the sound matters just as not, if not more, than the visuals, and besides some hearty renderings of a climactic storm and an early party sequence, there's nothing all that great about this track.

Discerning the difference between the chalky emptiness of stepfather's incredibly obvious basement of doom and the warmth of the family's life upstairs isn't enough to recommend this as a gangbuster track. It's incredibly workmanlike and not all that impressive. Not that the movie deserved much more.

The other options for audio are French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Special Features

Ranking:

'The Stepfather' comes with a smattering of extras, none of them noteworthy.

  • Commentary by Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh and Director Nelson McCormick This commentary track, with the two stars and the director, is jocular and lively but I found it frightfully dull. Yes, the three seem very chummy and offer some insight into the production of the movie, but does anyone really care? I do not. And no amount of shared giggling is going to make me care, either.
  • Open House: Making the Film (HD, 20:12) This is the documentary where I pulled that quote from the producer about never having heard of the original before reading some list of the scariest movies. Good to know that this is a real passion project. Psyche. While you may think "Open house, that's a clever name for this documentary about the making of the film," well, think again, about halfway through this little doc, it literally becomes all about the house they built to film the movie. This is beyond tedious.
  • Visualizing the Stunts (HD, 11:35) There were stunts in this movie? Huh. This mostly centers on the climactic fight with Dylan Walsh and Penn Badgley, and the most memorable think you'll take away from it was that Dylan Walsh was very, very cold. Because, you know, it's tough being an actor.
  • Gag Reel (SD, 4:52) This is the rare gag reel that will make you actually gag.
  • Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots This section of the disc features the unappealing trailer (HD, 2:33) and a slew of television spots (HD, 3:12 total) – what's so striking is that they all feature a scene that isn't actually in the movie (even the unrated cut), in which Dylan Walsh dangling a running saw above Amber Heard and then is seen to drop it on her. Doesn’t happen. There's a scene with a saw but that is not the outcome. Maybe it's because Heard was too cute to kill? Yeah, that must be it.

'The Stepfather' remake is just awful. If you want to see a similar story, but one with a significantly smarter and scarier approach, rent the original (Shout! Factory just put out a great DVD). That is a minor classic. This is an intellectually bankrupt proposition from start to finish, and the Blu-ray disc is just as lousy – with okay Audio/Video and unengaging special features. Skip this one, please. You won't be sorry.