Awkwardly chummy guys with weird glasses who disappear into darkened rooms with your laughing mother to listen to Donald Fagen solo albums—the stepfather was a ready-to-villainize archetype for the kids-of-divorce who saw the 1987 Terry O’Quinn thriller. That Stepfather was Donald Westlake’s reworking of Hitchcock’s wolf-in-the-suburbs Shadow of a Doubt, and now Westlake’s screenplay has been rejiggered. The kickoff is good—the finale effectively literalizes the expression “broken home”—but director Nelson McCormick doesn’t keep things “taut” in between. Rather than do scenes right the first time, he tends to déjà vu them (this usually involves Amber Heard, wearing not-too-much). Menaced family and friends include a Gossip Girl guy and a bunch of actors who look faintly like other more-famous actors, but The Stepfather is, finally, only as good as its stepfather—and Dylan Walsh ain’t bad. He’s nondescriptly handsome in a subdued, strong jawline, L.L. Bean fashion, short-ish as bullies will be, and oversensitive and overpolite in a hard-to-pinpoint way. Still, comparison with Jaume Collet-Serra’s recent and superior Orphan—also about a breached family—shows the difference between a by-the-numbers journeyman and a serious student of genre. Anyhow, closing on a buttrock cover of “Happy Together” should leave ’em laughing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2009