A disturbing epidemic has begun In New York City’s Central Park with people committing mass suicide. Initially believed to be a bio-terrorist attack using airborne neurotoxins, the behavior soon spreads all throughout the northeastern United States. Upon hearing of the attacks, Philadelphia science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) goes on an urgent search with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), friend and colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) for any safe, uncontaminated area they can find before the inexplicable and unstoppable threat to humanity catches them.
And make no mistake… it’s coming.
Yep, it’s definitely coming.
Any time now.
It’s taking a little longer than usual, but when it reveals itself – boy, is this planet in for it!
There was a time when filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan made great movies, and then something happened. The Happening happened.
I think I just figured out exactly what that mysterious, unstoppable force is – the stench of failure.
Contrary to what some think, Shyamalan isn’t a one-hit wonder. This is a man with four hits under his belt: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. Then came his first dud, The Lady in the Water. While not a good film, it was far from his worst. Lack of ambition was definitely not one of its faults, though over-ambition was, and the film had its redeemable aspects, one of which was not Shyamalan’s world-saving screenwriter, a pat on the back so self-congratulatory he might as well have named his character Jesus Christ. Yes, it was the start of Shyamalan’s decline, but he was just getting warmed up. Those that believe The Lady in the Water is one of the worst movies ever clearly haven’t seen the Sham-Hammer’s followup to his LSD fairy tale, The Happening, which would take ineptitude to record heights and go on to be his worst film, a notoriety that stands to this day.
And believe me, beating out The Last Airbender is no small feat.
So congrats, Shyamalan on being the first filmmaker to make both “Benjamin’s Stash” and “What the Hell Were They Thinking?!” (though since I own The Room, Tommy Wiseau has him beat by being eligible to make both segments for the same film).
What went wrong here? Not just wrong, but horribly wrong. Is this a comedy or a drama? I don’t know; many others don’t know; the movie certainly doesn’t know; I don’t even think Shyamalan knows. At first, he was hyping up the fear factor, stating that he witnessed test audiences leaving theaters trembling. Then, once the rest of the world caught a good whiff of that smell, he backpedaled like crazy and started saying things like “People missed the point entirely.”, “I was going for a campy B-movie feel.” and “It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.”
Birdemic’s James Nguyen had a similar 180 reaction to his film.
Give the Sham-Hammer his due, ’cause he’s accomplished things in this film that I don’t think any other filmmaker has been able to do, chief among them being turning suicide into a laugh-riot and drawing out an atrocious, cocaine-eyed performance from the immensely charming and so gosh-darn adorable Zooey Deschanel (if you haven’t seen her wonderful performance opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer, do so). She’s in good company, though. Normally known for playing confident badasses, an awfully miscast Mark Wahlberg (playing a science teacher didn’t work, but I guess that didn’t stop Paramount from thinking he could a literature professor in last year’s The Gambler) couldn’t look any more confused that he does here. Forgive him for the wooden acting. It’s hard to get any dialogue out when your face is stuck in a perma-frozen “What am I doing here?” stare.
If the Academy had a category for Best Brow-Furrowing, Wahlberg would win in a landslide.
No, Shyamalan doesn’t pop up in this one, but never fear. You can still feel the warm presence of his smug sense of self-worth carried over from The Lady in the Water.
That said, why keep beating a dead horse with this film? Why not glean something positive from it? I mean, you just never know if and when your ficus plant is going to kill you.
A Step by Step Guide to Surviving Cryptic Toxin-Induced Mass Suicide:
1) Seriously, guys, take an interest in science.
By doing so, you’ll be able to catch the dopey “twist” ending that’s pretty much spelled out by the students at the beginning.
Mark Wahlberg will break yah fuckin’ nose if yah don’t. “Yeah, say hi to yah mothah fah me!”
2) If you find yourself in great distress, rattle off some OCD probability stats. “62%… There’s a 62% chance we make it out of this alive.” There’s a 0% chance this film will make any more sense, and a whopping 100% it’s only gonna suck more and more as it continues to play out.
3) Hot dogs. Hot dogs. Hot dogs. They’re pivotal to your survival, and more importantly, even with their cool shape (????) and all the protein packed in them, it’s a damn shame they still get a bad rep. Maybe ’cause they’re made of rat’s ass, but whatever, they taste good.
4) Be scientific, douchebag. Identify the variables. Design the experiment. Careful observation. Measurements. Interpret the experimental pattern. It’s the plants!!!! Understand, right? Smoke a few first and it might become a little clearer.
5) Oak trees hate it when you swing on them. You’d know that if you took an interest in science like Wahlberg’s been telling you to do.
6) In the event you find yourself in a life-threatening situation that requires you to identify yourself, follow this quick, 3-step procedure.
Take a deep breath.
Count to ten.
Sing hit songs by The Doobie Brothers out of key.
7) If Step #5 fails, have the kids tagging along with you – the ones that are eerily calm about the fact that their families are either separated from them or dead – shout obscene insults at the occupants.
8) Look out, here comes the wind! Quick, cover the hot dogs!!
9) Don’t steal things from old ladies, or murder them in their sleep. They don’t like that.
10) Don’t put any stock in mood rings. They’re full of shit. Had poor Thomas J. Sennett known that he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to track down Vada Sultenfuss’s ring in the midst of that swarm of bees, and they’d be living happily ever after still to this very day.
11) When it’s all said and done, and those evil plants randomly decide enough’s enough with kicking humanity’s ass, be sure to fill up your new home with as many potted plants as you can – you know, those botanical assholes that have been causing everyone to kill themselves? Yeah, them.
12) Once all steps have been completed, you may now bask in the glory of Shyamalan as he bestows his omniscience upon the world. Consider it a privilege to be bludgeoned to death by his sanctimonious sledge hammer as he heavy-handedly tells us how much we all suck, and preaches the gospel of some eco-crap.
There’s a blink and you’ll miss it glimmer of potential to The Happening, but it disappears into a bottomless pit of incoherence, inept execution and hot dogs. Lots and lots of hot dogs. It’s obvious Shyamalan’s going for a Hitchcock vibe with his “fear of the unknown” angle, but between the ludicrous plot, befuddled performances, combined with an over-seriousness from both, it all adds up to one of the most unintentionally hilarious films of the past ten years.
I may not see dead people, but I do see a career on life support.