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Quick Thoughts on "The Box"
Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, Sam Oz Stone, James Rebhorn
Based on a short story written by Richard Matheson called Button. Button, which was once adapted into a episode of The Twilight Zone, The Box has such a wallop of an opening half hour that it pains one to see the rest of the movie disintegrate into an incoherent and nonsensical bore. Set in West Virginia in 1976, the movie tells the story of a happily married couple — James Marsden’s Arthur Lewis and Cameron Diaz’s Norma Lewis – as they are made a lucrative offer from a scar faced stranger named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella): If they press a mysterious red button inside a small wooden box, they will receive a million dollars in cash, tax free. The catch, however, is that someone in the world, whom they don’t know, will die.
Because the movie runs nearly two hours long, it’s no surprise that they wind up pushing the button, and why shouldn’t they? Norma, an English teacher, has just learned that the discount on her son Walter’s (Sam Oz Stone) tuition at the private school she teaches at has been taken away, and Arthur’s dreams of becoming an astronaut are dashed after he fails the psychological portion of his exam.
There are endless possibilities with a premise like this, but the movie shoots itself in the foot with a second half that is as frustrating as it is incoherent. There are characters who seem to have pivotal roles in the story but who are completely forgotten down the road (A creepy student in Norma’s class; a babysitter who isn’t whom she appears to be). The screenplay by director Richard Kelly piles on more exposition than is necessary (the whole thing with the box involves NASA conspiracies, people who act like zombies and suffer from nosebleeds, etc) and features scenes that are as impossible to comprehend as they are needlessly overlong (the movie comes to a dead halt with a scene late in the film set inside a library).
The acting is very good, and both the cinematography by Steven B. Poster and production design by Alec Hammond are simply luminous (this is a visually striking movie). Yet the editing by Sam Bauer is so bad that there doesn’t seem to be any sense of consistency or continuity; the movie is all over the map. In the end, The Box is much like the character Arlington Steward and his offer: It promises great things, but it’s all down hill the moment that button is pushed.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)