A two-banger for this July 4th holiday weekend.
The Happening (2008)
With all the July 4th fireworks and explosions going on, what better way to enjoy the holiday than with an end-of-the-world double feature.
DANGER WILL ROBINSON! SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE HAPPENING.
Mark Wahlberg puts on his bad acting cap – the one he wore as the moron astronaut in the Planet of the Apes remake – to star in Shymalan’s “first R-Rated film,” a gritty reimagining of the TV show What’s Happening. Wahlberg plays a white Re-run out to avenge the murder of buddy Rog by the Russian mafia. Just kidding.
Wahlberg is Elliott, a math teacher and Zoe Deschanel is his very odd wife Alma (they have ZERO chemistry together). One summer fine day in New York’s Central Park, everyone stops dead in their tracks like in an Improv Everywhere sketch; people start screaming and speaking incoherently; then they start killing themselves. In the best sequence of the movie, average joes at a construction site simply walk off the top of the building, one after the other hitting the ground with an ugly THUD. People everywhere are committing mass suicide in every manner imaginable. Naturally the first thought is a terrorist attack of some kind.
Oh, we’re definitely under attack, but not by Muslim extremists. Try the plants and trees and grass! Yup, Mother Nature is PISSED, and SHE’S FIGHTING BACK, BITCHES! What might have been an enjoyable Twilight Zone episode with a nice ecological message is made into a hilariously bad 90 minute feature. Yeah, it starts out fine, and has some genuinely creepy moments, but when you see Walhberg doing a “How’s it goin? Say hi to your mother for me” number to a house plant, the movie loses it. When the wind picks up and the trees start swaying and “talking” to each other you can’t help but supply their dialogue (“Get them! Get the fleshlings! Crush their seedpods!”). And HOW do the trees and grass control the WIND? You will fall out of your chair laughing when the wind-blown grass is “chasing” the characters.
Don't worry, the plants don't kill us. They just slapped us in the face with a leaf to give us a warning. Then they go after the French.
Shyamalan, please go away. You are like one of those one hit wonder bands. They keep making new albums and touring, but no one wants to hear their new stuff because it’s so bad; they just want to hear the one hit.
Now, on to a much better movie.
Nicholas Cage plays John, an MIT professor (yeah, right) in Knowing for Dark City director Alex Proyas. On the 50th anniversary of his son Caleb’s elementary school, a time capsule buried in 1959 is opened, and Caleb receives a piece of paper covered entirely with numbers. John soon deduces that the numbers are dates and body counts from major disasters that have occurred over the last 50 years. Scientist John has always believed that events in the universe happen at random (he lives by the old adage, “shit happens”), but now he has a document that seems to prove otherwise. There are a few dates left so John tries to change the outcome and prevent the disasters.
Aside from a somewhat rocky start with Nicholas Cage – I might buy him as a high school teacher, but an MIT astrophysics professor is stretching it a bit. Plus he’s just so damn goofy looking with the droopy eyes, nose, voice (“Gawsh”) and receding hair (THIS guy wanted to play SUPERMAN?!).
As the plot thickens, Cage gets better and is joined by the lovely Rose Byrne (another Aussie who can do an American accent). And boy, does the plot ever thicken (I won’t ruin it for you). This movie has some real creepy elements (seriously), some amazing visual effects – you will be saying “WOW!” and “Oh, my god!” during these sequences.
Also there's the fascinating determinism versus free will argument, which you won’t find in most summer movies, like, say, Transformers: Revenge of Paul Blart.