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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 23.26%
Average: 9.3%
Pretty Bad: 27.91%
Total Crap: 4.65%

4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Box, The
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by brianorndorf

"Richard Kelly needs new hobbies"
2 stars

Well, it was fun while it lasted. The wonderfully wacky world of writer/director Richard Kelly drives off cliff with “The Box,” the filmmaker’s self-proclaimed shot at a “broadly commercial” film. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing at all commercial about the enigmatic picture, which meticulously traces over the same lines of surrealism, spirituality, and otherworldly interference that marked Kelly’s previous features, the cult smash “Donnie Darko” and the underrated brain-smasher, “Southland Tales.” I would never doubt Kelly’s conviction and personal belief that he’s challenging himself, but “The Box” doesn’t lie. It’s the same old set of eye-crossing ambiguities, only this time there’s something of a budget and a smudged pass at cinematic normalcy.

In Virginia circa 1976, Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) are under pressure to keep up with their bills, with Arthur failing to secure a desired astronaut position at NASA. Into their life comes Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), a disfigured man who arrives with a box and careful instructions. Inside the box is a red button and, if pressed, a stranger will die, with one million dollars left to the couple as a reward. Leave the button be and Steward takes the box away, never to be heard from again. Weighing their options, Arthur attempts to investigate Steward, only to find the spooky dealmaker’s associates watching him from everywhere. Norma also digs for answers, finding Steward’s origins might not be as plainly malicious as previously thought.

I respect Kelly as an intelligent fellow who could probably solve a Rubik’s Cube in four moves. His intellect and insatiable itch for the unknown made “Darko” and “Southland” into distinctive treasures, but his imagination shows a considerable reduction of tread while navigating the winding road of “The Box.” Adapting the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button” for the big screen (after a previous stop on an episode of “The Twilight Zone”), Kelly allows the source material a chance to only eat up a fraction of the screenplay. This is a crying shame, as Matheson’s contributions are the only convincing suspense acrobatics of the picture.

A sci-fi morality tale, “The Box” presents an assertive “would you?” dilemma into the minds of the audience. Knowing someone would perish, be it baby or bum, would you take the fat cash and slap the red button? Or would the guilt, the sheer unknown elements of the situation, be enough to ruin your life, leaving refusal the only choice? “Box” sincerely addresses these questions, and Kelly understands how to squeeze the Lewis pickle for the optimum amount of dread. Shot with an impressive HD-powered ‘70’s glaze and captured with convincing special effects, Kelly opens “The Box” with stupendous promise. It’s a clean machine of suspense and ethical debate, assertively displaying hesitant heroes, a ghoulish villain, and a devious offer perfectly arranged to feed post-screening debates for years to come.

And then Kelly begins grating nonsense over the whole magnificent effort.

Once Arthur and Norma make their choice, there’s nowhere for “The Box” to go. Kelly, understanding the limitations of the short story adaptation challenge, pulls a bootlegger’s turn with his script, moving away from tentative reality to pure sci-fi. We’re talking operatic nose bleeds, liquid doorways to the afterlife (a Kelly staple), and a grandiose threat from unspecified origins. Kelly looks to the skies to embellish “Box” past the raw materials. While there’s a fascinating pull in the early going, hope is drained the longer Kelly stretches the mystery. At nearly two hours, the feature runs completely out of steam by the conclusion, making horrific dilemmas of life and death feel like amateurish stalling. “Box” bites off way more than it can possibly chew, and the flavor is overwhelmingly stale.

It’s difficult to label “The Box” simply incomprehensible. The worst offense of the film is the manner in which it pushes the viewer away, unable to clarify itself to a degree where it feels more like a puzzle and less like a diary reading. The feature willingly runs off the rails, and normally that sort of fearless sense of adventure is welcome. Heck, it’s benefitted Kelly on two previous occasions, but “The Box” is no party. Perhaps its secrets are not effortlessly interpreted, but they’re easily telegraphed.

Somebody get Richard Kelly a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy stat, or else we might have yet another talented filmmaker unable to wiggle free from his own cavernous pretension.

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originally posted: 11/07/09 01:31:47
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell boring mindbender not worth nothing 1 stars
1/14/17 Bob Dog I wish Richard Kelly would make another mindfuck movie as great as this one! 5 stars
2/26/12 Ryan Marshall A satisfying, albeit slightly ludicrous headtrip. Much better, Kelly. Much better. 4 stars
12/12/11 The Big D I can't tell you if it's suspense, sci-fi, or horor, but I can tell you I oike it! 4 stars
5/03/11 JW Specious, fatalistic downward spiral 2 stars
1/30/11 Amy It had a lot of potential, but it just didn't deliver. 2 stars
11/03/10 "No Limit" Nester One may SMILE and SMILE and be a VILLIAN! 5 stars
10/30/10 MP Bartley Bizarre, creepy, thought provoking...endless revisitations beckon. 4 stars
10/14/10 Keet Passable, but ultimately too boring 2 stars
9/17/10 Stephanie Weirdest movie ever. I kinda hated it, but I feel like I have to see it again. Santa, what? 2 stars
8/06/10 Langano Ambitious attempt falls a little short. Still better than most of the crap out there. 4 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 Great premise with some creepy images. Sort of runs out of gas the last 1/2 hr 3 stars
7/13/10 Peter North I'd like to punch Diaz right in her box! Movie SUCKED 1 stars
12/21/09 buy lipitor 87ehrf It is pivotal to change your physician about any allergies you may have and also your medic 3 stars
11/22/09 g. awesome 5 stars
11/15/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Needs Milla Jovovich and villans. Had neither. Take a date&enjoy that instead 3 stars
11/13/09 linnie still trying to get it 2 stars
11/12/09 frederic fitch whats with all the zommbies?? 3 stars
11/07/09 2bubblie the commercial sucks you in, the movie is terrible. 2 stars
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  06-Nov-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Feb-2010


  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

Directed by
  Richard Kelly

Written by
  Richard Kelly

  Cameron Diaz
  James Marsden
  Frank Langella

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