November 6, 2009, - 4:46 pm

Weekend Box Office: Nothing Great in “The Box,” “Men Who Stare @ Goats,” & “The 4th Kind”

By Debbie Schlussel

The new offerings this weekend are nothing to write home about . . . or on which to waste ten bucks.  I did not see Disney’s animated 3D version of “A Christmas Carol.”  Of what I did see, all three had a paranormal/science fiction element key to their plots, and all of them were lackluster:

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*  “The Box“:  I was really looking forward to this creepy science fiction/moral dilemma thriller, which appears to be based on a past “Twilight Zone” episode.  But “Twilight Zone” it isn’t.  Where TZ episodes were tight half-hour programs that were masterfully begun and finished with a specific point to them, this was not.  It began, like many movies, as an enjoyable promising story with a great premise.  But it quickly degraded into endless dead-end plotlines that went nowhere and had little to do with the main story, itself a mess.  You’ll be disapointed that you wasted two hours and ten bucks on something pointless that goes nowhere.

The movie takes place in the 1970s, and President Ford is the Commander-in-Chief.  While the ’70s kitsch of sideburns and wide collars is cool at first, it becomes an unintentional source of laughter and hilarity at points that are supposed to be scary.

A haggard-looking Cameron Diaz plays a teacher at a private school, with her husband, James Marsden, an aspiring astronaut who works at NASA, where he develops various mechanisms and machines for space exploration.  One morning, a mysterious box is dropped off on the front step.  Soon, a mysterious man with a disfigured face (Frank Langella, who is far better than this movie) shows up and tells Diaz that if she pushes the button, someone else in the world will die and she will collect a million dollars.

They are financially struggling, but, like every other husband in the movie, Marsden is against the killing at any price.  Like every other wife in the flick, Diaz wants the million and doesn’t seem to care about the life at stake, despite her own physical misfortune.  A side story of her deformed foot begins in the movie, but never really develops and is an ultimately irrelevant dead end.

Like I said, the movie had a great premise–to push the button or not, but once the decision is made, the rest of the movie is dreck.  Every possible  angle is thrown in but he kitchen sink.  The moral dilemma is pushed aside in favor of a weird science fiction outer space angle with NSA involvement, plus zombie-like spies who are put in the desperate couple’s life to spy on them.  There are silly, laughable sequences with water columns and a library filled with weird-looking people in 1970s-style long hair, sideburns, ugly glasses.  They looked like the cast of an old Schlitz or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer commercial, and instead of scaring me, I couldn’t stop laughing.  And that should be no surprise because the movie escalates into the laughable, when it’s supposed to be a dramatic thriller.

The movie looks good from the trailer, but after the first 20-30 minutes, it’s a joke.  Skip it and rent some old “Twilight Zone” episodes instead.  Those were classy and interesting.  This is schlock.  Rod Serling is wondering from the grave how people made millions with crap like this, and he died with almost nothing.

Don’t open this box.  Return it to sender.

TWO MARXES
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* “The Men Who Stare at Goats“: Don’t let the presence of uber-lefty George Clooney dissuade you from this movie. It’s a funny movie, and he’s funny in it. You might like it, and I did at first. It just wasn’t for me. After the first half-hour or so, it was like “The Box”: a complete mess to the point of absurdity and boring. There was nothing wrong or much offensive about it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. If you like dark, droll comedies that make fun of the government and military incompetence, you might like this. I wouldn’t waste $10 on it, or–more importantly–one-and-a-half hours of my life.

A young reporter (Ewan McGregor) in a dead-end job at an Ann Arbor, Michigan newspaper loses his wife to his much older editor and boss. He finds his life slipping away and is desperate for a good story after covering nutjobs claiming psychic powers nurtured in a secret government program. So, he decides to go to the Middle East to cover the War in Iraq and find an interesting scoop.

Soon, McGregor finds himself at a bar with George Clooney, a legendary government agent involved with the secret program developing psychic powers to fight the enemy. And he discovers the story he covered in Ann Arbor was true after all. He heads with Clooney to Iraq, where the man who developed the program (Jeff Bridges) is missing and an evil and less talented psychic in the program (Kevin Spacey) is using it for his own improper, self-aggrandizing ends.

ONE MARX
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* “The Fourth Kind“: More like “The Worst Kind.” One of the most stupid, boring, science fiction, alien abduction movies I’ve seen in recent memory. A total waste of time. And don’t believe the movie’s claims that it’s based on real people and a true story. If you do, they punked you (though you already got punked at ticket-buying point of the process). Moreover, the movie employs a silly gimmick in which they use two actors to play each character, trying to punk you into believing that one of the sets of actors is comprised of real life people in a video documentary. So what? Who cares? That means the mess of this movie is double messy and equally as stupid.

Milla Jovovich plays a psychologist in Nome, Alaska, who videotapes patients that claim a scary monster or alien that looks like an owl has abducted them and/or their family members. The city of Nome has seen many people disappear after UFO sightings, and she believes that alien abduction (“the fourth kind” of close encounter) is happening. She says the same thing happened to her husband, who was killed. But all of the videotape of the aliens doing anything is mysteriously made blank by the aliens. Gee, whatta coincidence! Oh, and did I mention the psychologist has her own psychologist who follows her around? Not that you care or should care. Sooo boring. Whatta waste. Dumb and skipworthy.

TWO-AND-A-HALF MARXES
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11 Responses

“The Box” and the Twilight Zone episode are both based on a short story by Richard Matheson (“I Am Legend”)

HG on November 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Thanks Debbie, wheather or not you like the movie you give it a good honest review, and save many folks some hard earned money in the process. I see that you’re a Twilight Zone fan like me. I haven’t seen “the box” episode in decades and still remember some scenes from it like yesterday. Pity the remake doesn’t do it justice. I was thinking of buying the Twilight Zone Box Set but I’ve seen the show so many times. I’m thinking of buying “The Night Gallery” series since I’ve only seen a few episodes, and don’t see any reruns on TV. How does it compare to the Twilight Zone, in your (or anyone elses) opinion?

theShadow on November 6, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I was so looking forward to ‘The Fourth Kind’. Debs and others have given it negative reviews so I’ll wait to rent it.

theShadow,

Some great people(saints really) on youtube have uploaded a whole bunch of episodes of Night Gallery, Twilight Zone (old, 80′s, 2000), Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside etc.,

I rented the Night Gallery set. It’s pretty good. If you can get it for a good price, go for it.Or if you aren’t that concerned about video quality, there are ways to download the videos from youtube. The Firefox web browser has plugins you have to get and there’s a pretty good program for Opera web browser called Flash Video Save Adapter for Opera. To convert those video files to divx avi or dvd format, get WinFF:
http://winff.org/html_new/

Norman Blizter on November 6, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Like all the great writers of the “twilight Zone” are just not fully appreciated.
I like Richard himself , are still waiting for a movie version of “I am Legend” that is taken from the book point for point.

He has written some great stuff in the TZ such as the classic nightmare at 20,000 feet. He also wrote “what dreams may come” which was turned into a movie. Plus “stir of echoes”.

As for Rod Serling, he had such frustration working within the system back then. As for his show, well, I believe he sold the rights to viacom for 3 million. His wife said he would be kicking himself because he died before syndication really took off. The show world wide has made the owners of the show untold sums.

spaceship22 on November 7, 2009 at 12:37 am

While not hijacking the comment section, this talk of Richard Matheson brings to mind his story, “The Test”.
Utopia-all of our societal problems have been solved-no wars, famine or disease pollute our planet.
There is universal health care, and each member of society is charged with doing their part for the common good.
But what if someone is past the age when they are vital parts of society? The aged contribute nothing and take up resources, so the loving compassionate Government sets up a series of tests for mental acuity and vitality. If an old person cannot pass the Test, that person is euthanized for the common good.
Thank goodness it’s only a story, right?

Douglas Q on November 7, 2009 at 9:50 am

No review of Precious?

S: Have seen it, but not allowed to review it until it debuts in Detroit on Friday, Nov. 20. Will be in that Friday’s reviews. Stay tuned and sorry for the delay. DS

Simon on November 7, 2009 at 3:22 pm

It is depressing that there are so many horrible movies out now. Frankly, it is not always the left political angle that is the worst, but simply the ineptitude of the screenwriters and cast. When remakes of classic films such as “The Parent Trap” or “The Pink Panther” are made, it tarnishes the memory one has of the originals. Such films are period pieces, and this was expecially the case with “The Parent Trap”, in which Walt Disney dealt with the subject of divorce. Divorce, even though it causes all of the harm it used to, is not even a topic of casual conversation anymore, and thus lacks the significance necessary for a social message film.

Worry01 on November 8, 2009 at 3:31 am

Spaceship, I just finished watching The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price from 1964. It was written in part by Matheson himself but he was dissatisfied with the final result. It is the closest of any movie to the book. Can’t say its a greay movie but worth a look if you’re a fan of either Price or the book.

Del on November 8, 2009 at 7:03 am

Twilight Zone is the best, there have been more copies of this series then one could dream. These lackluster screen writers of our day with little to no imagination need to copy off many works of the past. You can see write through them in their final piece, I feel sorry for anyone who has to sit through this dribble of today.

seahawker on November 9, 2009 at 10:07 am

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