October 22, 2009

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The Stepfather (PG-13)
A teenage boy suspects his mom’s new boyfriend is a crazed killer in The Stepfather, a movie so predictable it borders on parody.

Take for example Kelly Porter (Amber Heard), the girlfriend of central character Michael (Penn Badgley). I’m pretty sure she was in a bikini (or her underwear) in all but maybe two or three scenes. Relevant to the movie? No. Relevant to the 12- to 17-year-old males this movie was probably made for? Hmmm…

Michael has just returned home from military school and is all “whatever, Mom” about the suddenness with which she (Sela Ward) has become engaged to David (Dylan Walsh, who has plenty of extra creepiness left over from his role on Nip/Tuck). His younger brother (Braeden Lemasters) and sister (Skyler Samuels) don’t seem to mind David too much, but Michael is suspicious. He’s suspicious about David’s locked cabinets in the basement, suspicious about David’s weird and sort of aggressive talk about the importance of family. And when the neighbor lady shows up to say that David looks a lot like the fugitive killer featured on last night’s America’s Most Wanted, Michael’s mom laughs it off but Michael is certain it’s true, particularly when the neighbor lady dies suddenly from an “accident.”

There is never any question as to whether David is really a nutcase psycho killer. Nor do we ever wonder if Michael’s just going to chill out and accept his new dad — particularly when his “old” dad (Jon Tenney, who seems to enjoy getting to be a jerk) is still hanging around. So, really, the title of this movie could be “Will the Girl in the Bikini Get It?” because whether she is going to live or die in some sexually suggestive way is really the only point of suspense in the movie. And, considering how fundamentally unexciting her character is, I didn’t really care one way or another.

The Stepfather has its funny moments. Dylan Walsh is really quite a bad actor — or possibly he’s quite good at being campy; either way he turns in a highly entertaining awful performance. And somewhere out there, a drinking game is being formed around the number of times Badgley frowns — and the number of times Sela Ward’s character ignores a super-obvious sign that her fiancé is a nutter. But these aren’t quite enough to justify the expenditure of your $7.50 or your nearly two hours. C-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality. Directed by Nelson McCormick and written by J.S. Cardone (from an earlier screenplay by Donald E. Westlake), The Stepfather is an hour and 41 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.