Wednesday, June 11, 2008

THE HAPPENING: No, It's Not Happening

THE HAPPENING (suspense thriller)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley
Writer-Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and Ashley Sanchez

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? As writer-director of suspense thrillers, M. Night Shyamalan is 'not happening' anymore. He had shown such promise in his first trilogy of 'Sixth Sense', 'Unbreakable' and 'Signs' (his best, so far). Then it was all the way downhill from 'The Village' (2004) to 'Lady In The Water' (2006) and now this. 'The Happening', however, is not a train wreck of a movie. It is just that it is all build-up culminating in a disappointing 'pay-off'. Why, we don't even get a proper twist at the end that gives us the goose bumps.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? First, it starts with Central Park in New York. Out of the blue, people start killing themselves, committinbg suicide in all sorts of ways. Then the phenomenon spreads to Philadelphia, and to the small towns on the West Coast of the USA. Speculations abound. Some claim it is a neuro-toxin attack released by terrorists. Others blame the CIA for its clandestine biological experiment gone wrong.

Meanwhile, hordes of New Yorkers are leaving the city for 'safer' areas and among them are college science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and his estranged wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his friend, maths teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Of course, they soon find that there are very few safe places left...

HITS & MISSES: Well, there are one or two jump-out-of-your-skin moments in the 70 minutes of suspense and build-up. However, many of the situations seem ridiculous and implausible, while some scenes even show the microphone hovering over the cast and shattering whatever suspense or illusion that Shyamalan tries to build-up. Shyamalan shows his main characters running away from some deadly threat but nobody knows what it is. Then when he pins it down for us, we find that this 'evil' is illogically selective of its victims, picking on everyone except the lead characters.

Also, this is one Shyamalan movie with the most lame lines as well as several misdirections. The one thing we can be thankful for is that Shyamalan's mandatory cameo role here (as Joey) is not as intrusive and distracting as it was in 'Lady In The Water'. He must have found out that he had been 'wooden' in that 'Lady In The Water' role. But not this lead cast, though. Wahlberg and Deschanel give all they have to make themselves credible and Betty Buckley is at her weirdest as the eccentric Mrs Jones. It is just that the script is incredulous and even self-indulgent.

THE LOWDOWN: Looks like Shyamalan's got three misses already. He's out for the count.


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