The tried-and-true psychological thriller/horror flick leaves
plenty of room for snappy, fresh dialogue and inspired performances
and welcomes variations from an established track that make things
interesting, if not revelatory. These days, however, filmmakers
like David Keopp of “Secret Window” seem to be copping
out, abandoning creativity for cheesy special effects and the famed
trick ending, the supposed mind-boggling payoff that rarely
measures up. In effect, Keopp’s attempts at short cuts crash
and burn, further marring the name of his chosen genre as opposed
to reinvigorating it.

Luckily for Keopp, and anyone who finds themselves subjected to
“Secret Window,” the film has one saving grace: the
marvelous Johnny Depp. Strangely endearing despite extreme bed-head
and musty cardigans, Depp brings the rumpled writer Mort Rainey to
life. Rainey witnesses his wife’s infidelity in the opening
scene of the film, driving him to hole up in a creepy cabin on a
secluded lake and promptly abandon the laws of hygiene. Depp cuts
hints of vulnerability with a strong dose of sarcasm, immediately
winning sympathy and respect; even more impressively, he locates
shades of grey in what otherwise would have been no more than a
mere sketch of a protagonist.

Rainey’s real problems begin when the crazed writer John
Shooter, a shamelessly wasted John Turturro, begins haunting his
cabin with claims that Rainey plagiarized one of his stories. Of
the bountiful plot holes, the following is a classic. Rainey needs
proof that his story ran in a magazine before Shooter’s was
ever published, yet, as opposed to using modern technology, Rainey
sends for a copy of the magazine through the mail. The result is a
ridiculously avoidable race against time that squashes any suspense
simply by being so unnecessary.

Viewers who fancy themselves even slightly in favor of the laws
of common sense should pass on this one. As the body count rises
and the suspense builds, the plausibility factor rapidly plummets.
Asking us to believe that someone would actually cheat on Johnny
Depp is bad enough; Keopp goes too far in soliciting our emotional
investment in utterly absurd special effects of the flashing-lights
and minor-chord variety, which are dangerously reminiscent of
everything spooky ever shown on the WB.

By far the most disappointing aspect of “Window” is
the finale. Keopp so hypes the climax that one begins to hope that
it couldn’t get any worse. Instead, what we get is a
combination of several other movie endings sloppily pasted together
to the worst possible effect.

Given that the film is based on the Stephen King novella
“Four Past Midnight: Secret Window, Secret Garden” any
slightly supernatural aesthetic elements are explainable, but their
laughable rendering onscreen is inexcusable. Furthermore,
paper-thin characters like the vengeful John Shooter suggest poorly
executed paring down from the literary version. The resulting story
lacks spark and momentum; it seems that even Depp’s Midas
touch can’t save this one.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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