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Sunday, June 15, 2008

What's 'Happening' is a letdown

According to this review, the latest horror thriller from M. Night Shyamalan is a letdown.

What a great idea is "The Happening."

What a disappointing film.

The latest horror thriller from M. Night Shyamalan benefits greatly from Shyamalan's highly intriguing premise. But it suffers just as much from Shyamalan's weak dialogue, stilted direction and inability to connect with his actors.

In the best of all possible worlds, he would have developed his story and then handed it off to someone else to write the script and direct it. But this is M. Night Shyamalan, who burst onto the scene with the extraordinary "The Sixth Sense" and followed up a film later with the powerful "Signs."

Since then, however, he has seemingly lost the magic. "The Happening" shows flashes of his old brilliance, especially in the last 10 minutes. But getting there is not worth the effort.

Mark Wahlberg is absolutely and atypically dreadful in the role of a Philadelphia high school science teacher.

Some unknown incident in New York City causes people to become disoriented and kill themselves. The immediate thought is that it was caused by terrorists, and, just to be safe, Walhberg's character decides to flee to the country with his wife and a fellow teacher, played by John Leguizamo.

When Leguizamo is no worse than the rest of the cast, you know you're going to be in for a rough film. Especially when the cast includes the usually solid Zooey Deschanel, who plays Wahlberg's wife.

As the three of them and the daughter of Leguizamo's character head deeper into the country, they meet a number of character actors who are no better than the rest of the cast.

Things finally improve toward the end, when they encounter a crazy woman played by Betty Buckley. Finally, Shyamalan creates a character who interests him, someone who is Hitchcockian.

Tak Fujimoto's cinematography is crisply evocative, as always, and even James Newton Howard's musical score helps set the mood.

But the mood is consistently sabotaged by Shyamalan and the actors he has hired. Everything about the film feels forced, from the dialogue to the way it is said. And even when Shyamalan does the right thing with his camera, which is most of the time, it doesn't have the conviction of its movements.

We can watch it and appreciate what the film is trying to make us feel, but we never feel it.
The movie's best feature is the premise, that something in the air reverses the inhibitors in the brain that keep us from harming ourselves.

The images of people stopping dead in their tracks and then finding ways to kill themselves are chilling -- or they would be if they were executed better. One bit, involving a policeman's gun, is particularly effective.

But then, we learn what is causing this all to happen, and the reason is especially stupid. We waited the entire movie, we think, for this?

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