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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Belated Movie Reviews: The Happening

From time to time, I'll be reviewing the movies I get around to seeing on TV. This kick-off entry is a doozy.

Ask anyone who knows me well: I enjoy cheese and bad acting like no one's business. If it looks like it was written by the drama club, I want to see it. That's why I have so much fun watching made for TV movies, especially those SciFi originals. Little did I know that one of those scripts made it onto the big screen in a big budget production. Today I am reviewing The Happening, written, directed, produced and voice cameo'd by one Mr. M. Night Shyamalan. See trailer below:

The expectations were very low for this film, as I had been mocking it based on the trailer alone since before its release. No one would say "She is going to the town of Princeton." Jesus. Anyway, little did I know how astoundingly horrible yet boring the movie would ultimately be. The story, or what passes for plot, is not only shallow, but not very scary. Plants get pissed off and decide to make cranky Northeasterners off themselves. Not scary. Not even sensibly preachy. You've got to give Shyamalan major credit for managing to reverse the progress of years of global warming education in the span of 90 minutes.

The effects are atrocious. The man in the tiger cage? The dummies falling from the sky in a cheap 9/11 reference? The quesoriffic slow-mo sepia when John Leguizamo goes off to find his destiny "in the town of Princeton?" I saw better CGI used on Buffy, ten years ago.

The script is insane, but enjoyably so. The awkward phrasing, colorful sayings that no person has ever said ("Cheese and Crackers!"), overwrought green preaching, surprisingly tone deaf local references (no one from Philly would say "Rittenhouse Square Park" - they would say "Rittenhouse Square"), unfunny jokes in the middle of tragedy, and unrealistic conversations and reasoning sessions are breathtaking to behold. It's like the original script was translated into Swedish, then translated back into English before shooting began. This movie is very much like the music of ABBA in that way.

Finally, the acting really hammers home the point that this movie was just an all around bad idea. The extras read lines like they're at a 7th Heaven casting call. And the "name" actors have nothing to work with. Zooey Deschanel, an enjoyable actress normally, looks bored and confused as to why she is in the picture. John Leguizamo pretty much sweats a lot and says weird stuff. Betty Buckley works really hard to scare, but falls short.

Then we come to Mark Wahlberg, a guy I usually like. I don't know how he can actually say his lines with a straight face. Maybe his coping mechanism was raising his voice in a sing-song cadence to deliver every line like it was a question. Complete with awkward "I AM ACTING RIGHT NOW" hand gestures. His performance is an absolute wonder. A thing of terrifying beauty. Now I know where Andy Samberg gets his "Say hello to your mother" impersonation from:

Watching this, it just makes me wonder what happened to M. Night Shyamalan. Hard to believe that this is the same person who made The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. I never saw Lady in the Water in full, mainly because I can't even watch more than a few minutes of it without shaking my head at the dialogue. I know he has another movie coming out, and it's someone else's script. That's probably for the best. At this point, he needs to get back to filmmaking fundamentals. Or else transform into our generation's Ed Wood, and dedicate himself solely to making the worst movies possible. Commit himself anew to a genre where failure is the only option.

Is the film enjoyable? Well, watching it for quality is not recommended. If you're looking for something to mock or watch ironically, there's material here for that, but the film never gets unhinged or over the top enough to be that balls out, gonzo bad movie I like to watch. They should have gone for the gold, amped up the cheese even more, and made a movie that not only had a sense of humor, but was fun to watch. Go big or go home, I say.

Regular movie grade: D; SciFi movie grade: C+


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