Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Secret Window

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Johnny Depp starring in a thriller based on a Stephen King novella might be enough to get some of us to roll off the couch, head to the local cineplex and catch Secret Window. But despite Depp’s big screen charisma and a typically macabre King yarn, walk, don’t run.

The story of Secret Window is a variation on themes King has previously developed in his novels The Shining and Misery. Like the antihero of The Shining, Depp’s Morton Rainey is a dysfunctional writer who finds himself estranged from his wife and society. But unlike The Shining, this isn’t a horror tale of the supernatural. Secret Window turns into a psychological thriller similar to Misery when John Shooter (John Turturro), a Mississippi hick dressed like a backwoods funeral director, comes pounding at the door of Mort’s secluded cabin.

Shooter has an ax to grind with Mort. The gaunt Southern gentleman accuses the writer of stealing one of his stories. Mort has added insult to injury by botching the ending, “the most important part,” according to Shooter.

Shooter starts a campaign of homespun terrorism against Mort and ups the criminal ante to arson and murder. Believing himself a wronged man, Shooter will only end his vengeance if Mort puts Shooter’s name on the story and restores the original ending.

A plot like this could be the stuff of a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, a quid pro quo of murderous extortion recalling Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and a homicidal madman that vaguely resembles Psycho’s infamous Norman Bates. But if Hitchcock was the master of suspense, screenwriter-director David Koepp seems a journeyman of the thriller. Secret Window lacks the nimble juggling act between horror, black comedy and irony that many of Hitchcock’s classics demonstrated. As Mort drags himself from his well-worn sofa and shuffles into his own twilight zone, he spends more time tickling our darker funny bones than tingling our spines. Better King stories have been better adapted for the screen by better directors.

Secret Window reels us into its climactic twist with its plot line. But by the end, despite excellent performances — including Depp’s — it’s a fair, darkly comedic thriller, not great.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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