Secret Window

Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Johnny Depp Show!

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 04 May 2004 by Scott Morris
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"Steven King adaptation". A simple phrase, yet one that causes shudders of sheer terror from anyone with a passing interest in movies and a modicum of taste. Disko says more about the prolific garbage-monger's writing skills in his review of the frankly horrendous Dreamcatcher than I have the inclination to repeat, so lets just say we don't like his works much round these parts. Given the rate at which he churns stuff out and the close to 100% pickup of adaptations the fact that he was in some way involved with The Running Man, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile can be explained away by the law of averages, and by directors with the sense to ignore most of King's original story. Anyone who's seen the disastrous TV mini-series of The Shining that's pretty faithful to the original text will appreciate that point, and with tripe like The Tommyknockers, It, The Dark Half and Maximum Overdrive under his belt it's no surprise that Secret Window wasn't exactly met with high expectations.

Just as well, as it's not terribly good. Thanks to the lead actors it's an entertaining vacuous little waste of time and as such not a 'bad' film, but if director David Koepp had cast almost anyone else in these roles it's more than likely we'd be pulling the Vitriol Cannon out of mothballs. Mort Reiney (Johnny Depp) is an author whose life story has taken an unpleasant twist, separated from his wife Amy (Maria Bello) after finding her in bed with the mildly odious Ted (Timothy Hutton). Now ensconced in a log cabin in some remote backwater, almost certainly in Maine given that it's a Steven King adaptation, he's trying to find inspiration for his next masterpiece bothered only by his dog Chico and his conventionally irritating housekeeper. Searching for ideas largely by napping on the couch, business picks up once drawling Mississippian John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up accusing Mort of stealing his story.

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Shooter's threats and innuendo are enough to prompt Mort to call in the services of security expert Ken Karsh (the ever imposing Charles Dutton), although with Shooter raising the stakes of the game every day things look to be heading towards a violent end. And indeed they do, with one of King's patented story negating, visible from space with the naked eye plot twists that irritate more by how blindingly obvious it is rather than the gist of the twist itself.

While the implied accusation of plagiarism is unfounded given the age of the story, for those wanting a quick description of the movie it's The Shining mixed with Fight Club. Not that it's a particularly strong narrative, in fact it's pretty simplistic and only mildly involving in itself. It's several hundred times better than Dreamcatcher but that's hardly saying much, rock bottom filmmaking such as it was. It's plot would seem scraped thin over the length of the affair in most intellectual senses, but at least it's entertaining enough not to feel as such thanks to a few sterling performances.

Johnny Depp is always good value for money, perhaps as a result of a tradition or old charter or something. Easily the best thing in Once Upon A Time In Mexico and rightly regarded as the reason behind Pirates Of The Caribbean's success, quite why he decided to parlay that into this lacklustre adaptation is difficult to fathom, but very much to director Koepp's (and our) gain. Suitably careworn and acerbic throughout, he doles out many a chuckleworthy line due more to his delivery than the actual content and generates more goodwill than a movie of this quality wold normally warrant.

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Turturro and Dutton both give suitably charismatic support, both seemingly doomed to a career of second string characters rather than the limelight. A pity, as there's more talent between these two than contained in the entirety of the teenybopper leads coming from the Hollywood cloning vats. No matter, and even if Turturro is saddled with a rather silly accent he still manages to appear threatening in a good few scenes and Dutton is a solid base for Depp to bounce against.

Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton are used less effectively, in fact barely used at all and it's only at the conclusion of the film is there any reason shown for their characters to have been written in the first place. Koepp directs steadily enough although there's little flair on display, and he's saddled with using the 'shocking revelation' twist that stopped being shocking around quarter of an hour into the proceedings. Oh, and if King really thinks that the 'Shooter / Shoot her' thing is clever writing he needs to check himself lest he wreck himself. Given that he used a similar 'Redrum / murder' trick in The Shining perhaps said check is overdue.

It's difficult to work up much of a head of steam hating Secret Window. It's not terribly good for sure, and will never be remembered as a classic thriller or a suspense filled experience by, well, anyone I'd imagine. However, over the ninety odd minutes you'll be stuck in front of it there's enough jollies to be had to give it a very mild recommendation, assuming you absolutely have to go to the cinema and that you've seen the more worthy films on current release. If you don't buy into the whole 'Johnny Depp is a really good actor' thing, as some assuredly won't, then be prepared for an utterly uninspiring time, but for the rest of the planet we'll be prepared to cut Secret Window a little bit of slack.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

David Koepp
Cast list:
Johnny Depp (Mort Rainey)
John Turturro (John Shooter)
Maria Bello (Amy Rainey)
Timothy Hutton (Ted)
Charles Dutton (Ken Karsch)