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Two hours you spend watching "The Box" is time you can't get back

Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009

T he two hours you choose to invest in "The Box," written and directed by Richard Kelly, are two hours you won't be able to get back. Of course, you can also choose to not invest those two hours in this movie. You could spend those hours instead, for example, cleaning the bathroom, jogging, reading, or whatever else you decide. It's up to you. Whatever you elect to do with that time, there are consequences.

At its core, with the over-the-top hubbub stripped away, it is that basic truth that "The Box" examines. We're all aware of that fact, naturally. Just because we're aware of it, though, doesn't mean we necessarily think about it all the time. Forget choosing between going to a movie and going on a jog, though. Take it up a notch.

Actually, take it up about two hundred notches on the intensity scale and then you'll be in the neighborhood of "The Box." Kelly based his script on the short story, "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson; the movie is just shy of 120 minutes, so you do the math and figure out how far he must have strayed from Matheson's original. I can't say concretely how far Kelly strayed since I've not read Matheson's short story, but judging from the result I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he strayed a bit.

Okay, a lot.

Now, if you miss the opening caption stating we're in the 1970s like my mother did, don't be alarmed by the wallpaper at the home of Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden). Feel free, on the other hand, to be alarmed by the strange man (Frank Langella) that shows up at their door missing half of his face and carrying a box - the box. The offer he makes to the financially strapped couple is this: Press the red button in this box and receive one million dollars cash, tax free.

Oh, and someone somewhere whom they don't know will die.

What would you do? The best thing about "The Box" is it makes you think. It is an interesting decision to ponder, too, no? You should know, though, that if you're even still thinking it over... um, you lose. The right thing to do should jump out at you. It should be obvious. Don't press the button!

That movie would be a bore, though, so I'll just tell you that Norma presses the button. It's startling how quick she darts her hand out and slaps that bad boy, too. The thing is, Langella and his half-face are not lying. Norma and Arthur get the cash, and someone dies. Almost immediately, the young couple wants to take back their decision, but that's not how it works. That's not how life works. Norma pressed the button and now the, ah, poop hits the fan.

That is how life works.

"The Box" could have been fantastic. The premise is one of those rare conversation starters, the actors deliver capable performances, and there are some truly tense moments on screen. But the plot holes are also big enough to fit a cruise ship through. Turning points in the story make less sense than a Sarah Palin speech. Yes, it gets that confusing.

Sadly, the extremes Kelly takes "The Box" to only take away from a fabulous starting point. I can't get my two hours back, and I can't tell you for sure what you should do with your two hours. Maybe, though, if you're still thinking about pushing that button, you should invest the two hours.

It might set you straight.

• Check out carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.

'The Box'



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