The Happening

posted June 18, 2008 12:55:25 PM CDT | 14 comments

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Please, a moment of silence for M. Night Shyamalan’s career. Though the priest has been tweaking his eulogy through a string of the director’s recent works – Signs, The Village and the tragically awful Lady in the Water - he can officially commence with the funeral now. The Happening is a disaster.

Actually, its dreary premise –some mysterious airborne agent leaves people in the Northeast with a short-circuited brain that makes them suicidal- is kooky but tolerable. And its stars - Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel play a couple going through marital woes- are respectable. Sadly, everything else about the film is put together with the intricacy of toilet paper from Dollar General.

The weird happenings start in Central Park, but they blow their way over to Philly in a hurry. Those fortunate to get on the first train out of town do just that. Of course, Elliot (Wahlberg), his wife, good friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter find a seat. The Harrisburg-bound locomotive loses communication and is forced to stop in some small town off the map. The scared many gather at a diner. When word gets to them that the terrorist gas, nuclear exhaust, plant toxin or whatever it may be is headed their way, everyone scatters for their cars… Wait, cars?! Weren’t they just on a train? How in the hell could Elliot’s crew be the only ones left in the parking lot? Oh, c’mon, M. Night. You gotta come better than that, homie.

And if that weren’t skin irritating enough, Elliot manages a wardrobe change halfway in, even though he’s been running through grassy Pennsylvania fields all day without anything resembling luggage by his side. Logic, be damned!

The notes say this movie was filmed in 44 days. Any half-witted filmgoer will insist that one of the 4s has to be a typo. There’s just no other way that a big-budgeted production could end up feeling like a Tales From The Crypt episode if it were given the proper parameters to work in.

Beyond those inexcusable sequential missteps, Shyamalan also fails to enthrall creatively. Scenes where the infected kill themselves are gratuitously stupid, not genuinely scary. When the camera does that M. Night trademarked follow-the-beaded-eyes thing, there’s rarely anything worth caring about at the other end. And those slick endings dude is known for? Maaaaan, Titanic has a more complex finish.

But hey, at least there’s a lot of blood in Shyamalan’s first R-rated feature. Ironically though, nothing dies more spectacularly over the course of this flop than the odds of M. Night ever shaking the one-trick pony tag attached to his name.

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