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M. Night Schmageggy strikes (out) again

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

On Friday the 13th I should have known it as soon as I saw those fateful words on the screen: “Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamilan.” But oh, no. Like a vulture circling a dead wallaby, I licked my lips, chuckled my evil chuckle, reached for my notebook, sharpened my poison pen, and settled down to see another disaster by the biggest Schmageggy in Hollywood.

Here’s a guy who did one really good movie, “The Sixth Sense,” in 1999, and has since got funding for five other films – each worse than the last. Well, artistically-speaking, anyway. They all made money, which (Duh!) may be all that counts in the film business.

As in his other films, the first few minutes of “The Happening” are spellbinding, and promise waaaaaay more than the film will ever deliver as it drifts, inevitably, toward the crapper.

In all fairness, I must admit it is not worse than the others. In fact, it could have been really good and interesting and fresh and original. If it was made in, say, 1951. But as it is, it’s just a rehash of an old “Twilight Zone” episode, except not as good and much longer.

You see, back in the ’50s during the Cold War, sci-fi movies got to be very popular. People were paranoid, the Russians were coming, the A-Bomb was gonna destroy civilization, yadda yadda yadda. But the sci-fi films were very good, even though there were only about five major themes that were popular. Well, Schmageggy’s movie “The Happening” covers three of them without adding much new: “Nature Strikes Back,” “There Are Some Things Mankind Was Not Meant To Know,” and “If This Gets Out Of Hand.”

In other words, you’ve seen the whole mess again and again. M. Night just hangs it all on a new hook: this business with all the bees disappearing (you must have seen the documentary on the Discovery Channel, too). The fact that our bee population is acting like lemmings is as scary as global warning in real life, but on the screen, M. Night has turned that scant fact into a B-movie.

Mark Wahlberg is in the lead in this one, playing a Mr. White Bread high-school biology teacher (so’s he can toss a couple of scary Nature Channel facts at us). He’s joined by Zooey Deschanel (using Those Eyes to full advantage) and John Leguizamo, an interesting actor somehow cast without any character traits whatsoever. In fact the only interesting acting in the whole movie is by Frank Collison, who has a small part as a plant-nursery owner. Everyone else has obviously been told to just run around in circles and look scared as hell.

So after about an hour and a half watching people committing suicide for no apparent reason (is there something in the air in Philadelphia, one wonders) you expect an explanation for all your patience. Or, seeing that it’s a Schmageggy film, maybe not. Put your money on the latter.

I have nothing against this guy, and kind of admire his chutzpah for his habit of personally appearing, a la Hitchcock, in all his movies. And as I said, the first few minutes of each and every one of them promises a fun trip. But after that, he drives the car off a cliff.

Obviously, he’ll keep making them as long as we keep going to see them. And there is something to be said for having the ability to make one bad movie after another. If you don’t believe that, just ask the venerable Roger Corman, who has cheerfully produced about 300 of the worst movies ever made.

I’m not saying to skip “The Happening.” If you have a trace of Nerd blood in you, like I have, you’ll probably even enjoy this exercise in frustration, as I did. Hope, amongst us Movie Geeks, springs eternal.

We’re more to be pitied than despised.


Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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