Saturday, February 7, 2009

DVD Movie Review: The Happening

Image from Useless Jonk
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'd warn you that there may be spoilers in this review, but this movie couldn't possibly be spoiled.

It's a gloomy drizzly day here in Las Vegas. I had to get up early to go unlock the door at work, but I didn't have to stay. And The Other Half is away, so all of this felt like the perfect time to watch a couple of the DVDs we got at Christmas time.

One I've been eager to watch was M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. I had heard some minor rumblings that it was a bad film, but I wasn't so sure. After all, the subject matter--a strange occurrence of mass suicides--was intriguing. The movie stars John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley and Mark Wahlberg, three outstanding actors. And the plot sounded right out of a Stephen King or Dean Koontz book. Besides, how bad could it be?

Bad. Oh, so bad. Worse than I ever would have imagined. I kept watching, because I couldn't believe how bad it was. The dialogue was strange. The characters interacted in ways that were completely alien to the situation. Not one character was believable. Little things were odd, like three people in the back seat of a Jeep Wrangler. That's some special effect, because two in the back of my Jeep would be almost impossible. Leguizamo's relationship with his daughter was strange. He continually picked her up and carried her, though she was far too old (and large!) for that, then dumps her off, and quickly exits the film (in a strangely off-screen death).

The movie started off semi-promisingly, with some bizarre behavior, leading to suicides. It segued into the classroom of science teacher, Wahlberg. His interactions with his class were completely unrealistic, and as the school learns of "the happening," every other interaction between characters was equally stilted. We learn that these suicides are spreading all over the northeast, and that smaller and smaller concentrations of people are being affected. Eventually--through incredibly bad dialogue and exposition--we learn that apparently the plants are pissed off at people, and have evolved a toxin that's killing us.

Maybe. You see, no one is ever quite sure. And the camera tries to capture this by showing wind in the trees and grass. . .which is actually shown to be chasing the people! Wahlberg is on the run with his wife (the horrifically bad Zooey Deschanel), who has--omigod!--had dessert with another man, and is feeling guilty about it. Um, what? They've also got Leguizamo's daughter in tow, and the three of them are with a group of people that gets progressively smaller. The movie meanders like a plotless dream, with our group happening upon a model house, a group of houses with homicidal occupants, and a farm house with crazy (Luddite? Amish?) Buckley. When Buckley meets Wahlberg, she carries on a one-sided conversation with him, while he remains mute. Why? I don't know.

Wahlberg, Deschanel and the little girl ultimately survive (as you'd expect they would) when the happening stops happening for no discernible reason. More exposition shows that no one is really quite sure what happened or why. And then it happens again, in France. That's it. No twist ending. No climax. No payoff. It sucked. Hard.

There isn't a stretch of dialogue, or any bit of human interaction in this film that is remotely believable. The acting. . .I want to say it's bad. . .but that's not the right adjective. It's strange. And not just in the "creepy" parts, through the entire picture. Ordinarily, you'd think Marky Mark could carry the film with his acting chops, and the fact that he's a hottie. But no. He can't.

And what is it with this "name above the title" director/producer/writer Shyamalan, anyway? The Sixth Sense was OK, I guess, though I had the ending spoiled for me. Signs was OK too, though I preferred the spoof of it in Scary Movie 3. The Village kind of blew. And The Lady in the Water got such bad reviews, I didn't bother. With this latest film, I wonder if any studio is going to allow this guy to do all the work. He needs help. He needs it badly.

My review: Avoid at all costs. Don't even watch it for free.

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