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“Don’t Worry Darling” - reviewed by Dan Webster

Movie sequels seldom live up to the quality of the original features they follow. Yet Hollywood keeps churning them out.

Yes, “Godfather II” is a masterpiece, but it is the rare exception. For every “The Sting,” there’s a “The Sting II.” For every “Saturday Night Fever” there’s a “Staying Alive.” And we’re all better off forgetting any “Home Alone” movie that doesn’t star Macaulay Culkin.

Lately, they’re not just making sequels, though. They’re remaking movies outright. And when they’re not doing that, they’re taking bits and pieces of older movies and coming up with something that strives to seem original, fresh and even thought-provoking, but remains just … well, derivative.

That pretty much describes “Don’t Worry Darling,” the second film directed by the actress-turned filmmaker Olivia Wilde, the first being 2019’s “Booksmart.” “Don’t Worry Darling” is based on an idea concocted by the siblings Carey and Shane Van Dyke and turned into an actual screenplay by Katie Silberman, who was one of four credited writers of “Booksmart.”

Set in the fictional city of Victory, California (and filmed mostly in Palm Springs, California), “Don’t Worry Darling” centers on Alice and Jack Chambers (played, respectively, by Florence Pugh and Harry Styles), a couple who seem to have everything. They live in a mid-century-modern house set in a perfect 1950s-era neighborhood, Jack drives a classic car (first a Thunderbird, later a Corvette) to work while Alice stays home doing domestic chores (laundry, vacuuming or scrubbing the bathtub). Or she hangs out pool-side with friends before returning home to prepare dinner and the cocktail she hands to hubby the moment he walks in the front door.

At which point they have steamy sex. But, as if we in the audience haven’t already had our suspicions, something just isn’t right. Alice is afflicted by visions, of women writhing Rockettes-like in a circle, their legs rotating in unison and then morphing into a giant dilated eye. And sometimes those visions seem totally real, as when the glass walls seem to close in on her or when, seemingly randomly, she wraps her head in plastic wrap.

And what isn’t right involves Frank (played by Chris Pine), the guru of Victory, whose sermons drone from the television set that always seems on whenever Alice is cleaning. It’s at a party that Frank and his wife Shelley (played by Gemma Chan) host that Alice sees her friend Margaret speak out, an action that begins to crack the aura of community perfection.

When Margaret later commits suicide, and everyone – Jack included – tries to gaslight Alice into thinking that she was imagining things, there’s no going back. Soon she’ll be heading into the desert, where no one is allowed to go, to see what the secret is behind Victory Headquarters.

That secret will be no surprise to anyone who is familiar with what Rod Serling featured in various episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” Or what the Wachowski siblings created in “The Matrix,” not to mention the world that Peter Weir oversaw in “The Truman Show.” To that mix, add in the feminist message of “The Stepford Wives” – the 1975 original, not the too-obvious-a-correction 2004 remake – and you have “Don’t Worry Darling.”

What Wilde puts on the screen certainly looks good. Palm Springs’ gorgeous colors contrast well against the backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. And the acting is fine. Pugh – an Oscar-nominated actress who seems to be in everything these days – proves to be a moving presence as Alice, the recording star Styles manages to hold his own while the former Capt. Kirk Pine adds just the right amount of sleaze to his cult-leader role. Even Wilde herself, starring as Alice’s BFF Bunny, fits in well.

It's just that there is little about “Don’t Worry Darling” that we haven’t already seen. Even the tabloid headlines surrounding the movie’s making – rumors of an on-set romance between Wilde and Styles and a Wilde-Pugh public feud – seem dated and cliché. Not to mention that ending, which likely is meant to be mysterious but just seems as incomplete as it does weirdly abrupt,

So, yeah, there is no need to worry, at least about where Hollywood seems to be headed – namely, down the same road it’s traveled so many times before.