Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella
Director: Richard Kelly
Released: Warner Brothers Pictures (2009)
Prior to watching this movie, I was unaware it was based on a short story by Richard Matheson. If I'd known that I would have made it a point to read "Button, Button" before watching this sci-fi thriller, as I like to read a story before seeing the film interpretation. Oh well, I don't think it would have mattered much because I suspect I would have been a bit disappointed by this movie either way.
The story deals with a married couple enduring hard times with the wife (played by Cameron Diaz) being laid off from her teaching job and the husband (James Marsden) failing the psychological exam at NASA, dashing his hopes of becoming an astronaut. The increased combined income would have been enough for Diaz's character to afford surgery on her foot--four of her toes were amputated and it hurts to walk. Enter the box. One night a box is left at their front door, followed by a stranger (Frank Langella) with a disfigured face who explains the nature of the box. There is a button that if pressed will result in two things: the wife and husband will receive a million dollars tax-free in cash, and somewhere in the world someone they don't know will die.
The couple is given twenty-four hours to decide whether they'll push the button or not. If they don't, some other family will be given the offer. They spend the next day debating about how crazy the man is, how preposterous the offer is, what they could do with the money, and whether they could live with the fact of being responsible for another person's death. At the last minute, the wife pushes the button, which reminded me of Eve and the apple--an intentional allusion or not, I'm unsure.
The first half of this movie felt very eery and engaging. I quite liked it. Langella plays the stranger with a combination of calm and foreboding. And Diaz puts on a better performance than I'm used to seeing from her. Marsden, tolerable. The whole premise for this movie is great? If you knew someone would die because of it, would you take the money? Richard Matheson got the idea from his wife's philosophy class, if I recall correctly.
My main gripe with the film is that the big reveal is basically revealed halfway through the movie. The majority of the mystique and intrigue is thrown out the window in favor of surreal visual effects and a conspiracy theory I had trouble buying into. What mystery is left is simply trying to guess the fate of Diaz's and Marsden's characters ... oh, and that of their son.
Did I forget to mention the son before? Well, that's understandable given the fact that he was nothing but a prop and a cheap one at that in the film. Marsden and Diaz don't play parents, as the kid is portrayed as little more than an impudent stranger living in their home. He didn't feel like a part of the family dynamic at all. That would be my second gripe about the movie--lack of sympathy for the characters.
So, by the time the big finale approaches, I already know what is going to happen, but it's teased out for ten or fifteen minutes with overwrought dramatics that fell flat with me. And combine that with the conspiracy element and I didn't care for the ending at all.
People beat up on M. Night Shamalan (sp?) for his films, but I gotta say, I'd watch The Happening again with a smile on my face before bothering with this movie again. This movie was hyped as "from the guy who brought you Donnie Darko" and now I'm less eager to see Donnie Darko. Do yourself a favor if you watch this movie, and stop it at the point when Frank Langella comes back to the house to retrieve the box. The end of that scene leaves the story on a great note, even if it's midway through the whole movie. Everything beyond that just doesn't measure up in my eyes.