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The Stepfather

(2009) * Pg-13
101 min. Sony Pictures Entertainment. Director: Nelson McCormick. Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield.

/content/films/3682/1.jpgIn the bonus features of the home-video release of The Stepfather, director Nelson McCormack invokes Shadow of a Doubt, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and Sleeping with the Enemy. Which of these movies does not belong? Trick question: the answer is The Stepfather, which no more lives up to lame nineties thrillers than it does to Hitchcock. As dull as a butter knife, this bland PG-13 "thriller" doesn't have the psychological weight to compensate for a lack of gory jolts, and as another remake drained of its source's idiosyncracy, The Stepfather adds insult to injury for fans of the original 1987 film.

Nearly everything about this version of The Stepfather makes it a textbook example of the airbrushed Hollywood remake. Setting aside the audience-broadening downgrade from R-rated intensity to PG-13 safety, have a look at the casting of the leading man. It's not that new "Stepfather" Dylan Walsh is a bad actor, but his traditional leading man looks seem like a bet-hedging choice on the part of producers, especially compared to the 1987 lead, long-underrated character actor Terry O'Quinn (since a TV star on Lost). Walsh plays David Harris (or is he? um, no, he isn't), an incognito fugitive killer who becomes boyfriend to the extraordinarily trusting (okay, stupid) Susan Harding. She's played by Sela Ward, perhaps the only woman who could make this idiot likeable. The real protagonists, for better or worse, are two frequently unclad teens, David's would-be-stepson Michael (Penn Badgley of TV's Gossip Girl) and his girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard of Pineapple Express); the better to keep audiences in seats, the pair spend most of the movie enjoying the Harding pool.

Recently released from military school, Michael must walk on eggshells, despite his immediate discomfort with David. He's not alone in his growing suspicions, which are shared by his father Jay (Jon Tenney), and Susan’s lesbian friends (Paige Turco and Sherry Stringfield), who rightly question David's phobias of forms and photo IDs. Eventually, the serial killing stepfather lumbers into action, forced as he is to eliminate those who get too close to his secret. But there's no genuine suspense here as director Nelson McCormick sadly submits to the programatic peregrination of J.S. Cardone's script. Surprise, surprise: it all comes down to David stomping around the suburban home in homicidal pursuit of the latest family to fail sufficiently to accept him. Any subtlety or implicit social satire to be found in Joseph Ruben's original went out with the last neighborhood trash pickup. Too bad the service was canceled before it could haul away this waste-of-time remake.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/9/2010

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hand it to Sony: even bottom-of-the-barrel titles like The Stepfather get top-of-the-line transfers that maximize what's possible on the Blu-ray format. Of course, this newly minted film doesn't present too many challenges, but the film-like transfer has all its pixels in a row. Accurate, rich color and pleasingly calibrated contrast contribute to the detailed image. One can't ask much more of the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which—while something less than dazzling—accurately recreates the competent theatrical mix for home systems.

A commentary with director Nelson McCormick, Penn Badgley, and Dylan Walsh is no more scintillating than the feature, but it does show a good, thorough effort in sharing production details and filmmaking intentions.

"Open House: Making the Film" (20:12, HD) is a standard-issue making-of with producer Greg Mooradian, McCormick, producer Mark Morgan, Walsh, Sela Ward, Badgley, Amber Heard, and production designer Steven Jordan.

"Visualizing the Stunts" (11:35, HD) includes behind-the-scenes B-roll, storyboards, stunt pre-viz footage, and interviews with stunt coordinator/second unit director Mike Smith, McCormick, Jon Tenney, and Walsh.

There's also the film's "Gag Reel" (4:52, SD), "Theatrical Trailer" (2:33, HD) and "TV Spots" (3:12, HD), along with movieIQ functionality via a BD-Live hookup.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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