It's crunch time for "The Stepford Wives." The long-plagued, bad buzz movie is set to open two weeks from today, but as yet no one in the industry has screened it. (A Hollywood premiere is set for June 6.) The film's production company still has offices set up at Kaufman Astoria Studios, where director Frank Oz is still tinkering with the finished product.
At the same time, I am told that today may be the day when all of the post-production work is completed on the troubled project. 'May' is the important word there, as no one is sure when or if "The Stepford Wives" will ever end. As of yesterday, the movie was still on the operating table at the Sound One editing facility in Manhattan. Switchboard operators who answer the phone at the various places where work goes on crack wise like Eve Arden when asked about the movie.
There have been test screenings, however, out in New Jersey, far from the tentacles and prying eyes of the entertainment press. Unfortunately, they have not met with positive results. One of my, shall we say, spies, saw "The Stepford Wives" about two weeks ago and had nothing kind to say about it.
This version of the movie, a remake of the 1975 horror classic, has an all-star cast. Paramount Pictures, desperate for a hit, has already started rolling out the actors for press appearances. Nicole Kidman recently appeared on David Letterman. Tonight the whole cast is on "20/20." I've heard they're supposed to be on "Oprah," too.
And while the actors are said to be just fine in the updated comedy version, I am told that the screenplay is horrendous and the movie simply falls apart. Kidman, my insider reports, actually get the highest marks for her part as high powered Manhattan TV exec who gets fired when one of her reality shows goes awry. (One of the contestants shoots the others.)
Kidman and her husband (Matthew Broderick) move to suburban Stepford (which novelist Ira Levin originally based on Westport-Darien-New Canaan, Connecticut). That's where Nicole encounters one couple played by Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, and another played by Bette Midler and Jon Lovitz. Quickly, Nicole and Matthew realize that the women of Stepford are acting too perfect.
But according to my source, the movie takes a bad turn at that point, and never recovers.
"It's terrible," says my reporter, who has enough professional credentials to make a good enough judge. "It's full of clichés, especially ones about Bette Midler and Jon Lovitz being Jewish. They keep calling them 'you people.' The plot is so stupid, it's too dumb for words. The women have beautiful clothes, and Nicole looks great, but the men are very unattractive, like computer geeks instead of WASPs or preppies. We spent a lot of time looking at what the women were wearing."
While Midler and Lovitz are used for comic relief, Broderick and Kidman are the sympathetic main characters trying to get to the bottom of the Stepford mystery. Walken and Close, apparently, are the evil antagonists in the revamped plot, as screenwriter Paul Rudnick and producer Scott Rudin have chucked the old ending of the Stepford Men's Club being responsible for the glazed look in the eyes of the town's women.
Even though the test audiences were told that three endings were filmed, I am not going to tell you about any of them. I will also not reveal the two plot "twists" I was told, involving Close and Walken's characters, even though these diversions from the original story sound unbelievable and forced. (And good luck finding the first film on video or DVD; it's suspiciously unavailable.)
What will happen to these Stepford wives and husbands? Producer Rudin is known for working magic, but even he may not be up to the task to save this movie. He'll be in good company if the film flops, as this has been the year of the turkey, certainly, with "The Alamo," "The Day After Tomorrow," "Raising Helen," "Troy," "The Ladykillers," "Van Helsing," "Connie and Carla," "Laws of Attraction," "Jersey Girl," "The Whole Ten Yards" and "Envy" among the critical or commercial calamities.
In the meantime, the good news is that Mario Van Peebles' "Baadasssss!" opens today — which you should not miss — and "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" premieres tomorrow night on HBO. And good movies, like "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," "Man on Fire," "Shrek 2," "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Super Size Me," are all out there somewhere.
Stevie Wonder's first album in nine years, "A Time 2 Love," is set for release on July 27. But first he hits Oprah on June 8 and "Good Morning America" on June 11, with repeats again on release date. In an emotional speech last night at the annual T.J. Martell Foundation dinner, Stevie — accepting a much deserved artistic achievement award — revealed that he lost his brother Larry to AIDS last year. He then told the audience of record industry execs and musicians that his first wife, Syreeta Wright, a well-known singer in the early '70s, was gravely ill. Apparently she's having a serious battle with cancer. Our prayers go out to her.
Stevie came to the dinner with his beautiful daughter Aisha, now a grown young woman but once a baby featured in the Wonder hit, "Isn't She Lovely?" back in 1976. My, how time flies! They both listened with much interest as Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford, Michael McDonald, India.Arie, Ray Chew, a new singer named KEM, and the spiffy Stephanie Mills performed some of his hits. At the end, Stevie himself came on stage to do "Superstition" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" with the group. Afterwards the whole gang headed to Ashford and Simpson's Sugar Bar on the Upper West Side for some good food and hot music. Or good music and hot food.
Stevie wasn't the only Martell honoree last night. George and Barbara Bush were also on hand, recounting the tragic loss years ago of their daughter Robin to cancer. Also: Dr. Daniel Vasella of Novartis accepted the Scientific Achievement Award. Foundation founder Tony Martell, who started this remarkable organization 29 years ago in memory of his son, really should be getting his own award at this point for so many breakthroughs in cancer and leukemia research.
But Stevie put it best. "I wish I could write a song that would find a cure for the disease... of hate. Love is the cure for hate." He then read the moving lyrics to a new song called "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved." Based on that, July 27 can't come fast enough!
Expect word on Tuesday from Miramax regarding the sale of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." The new distributor may turn out to be a consortium of studios including Lions Gate and Newmarket, with more than one firm putting its name on the controversial film...Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter obviously isn't suffering from all those accusations leveled at him in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He was seen having a grand time last night in London dining at the new trendy Wolseley Restaurant in Piccadilly with a big group including a woman who was described as 'hanging on him' and a man who appeared to be his doppelganger. He picked a big night at Wolesley, since the real celebrities in the room included Tom Jones, Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, and artist Lucian Freud... Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson and talented actor/director Campbell Scott are no longer an "item," but they remain good friends. Scott will be catching Clarkson's performances this weekend in Washington in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Scott's excellent film, "Off the Map," starring Joan Allen, will open this fall. He directed it...