Horror and Depp-ravity in the woods

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Johnny Depp really should get himself a new agent. The man has
worldwide adulation from female fans, and a talent as reliable as
any Hollywood heavyweight. He’s probably one of the most
bankable actors at work today. But judging from his track record,
he chooses his scripts either blindfold or just blind drunk. For
every classic he’s made ( Platoon, Donnie Brasco etc),
there’s a clanger to match ( A Nightmare on Elm Street 6,
enough said). These days, though, he seems to be resigned to carrying films
singlehandedly. Pirates of the Caribbean would have been
instantly forgettable without his swaggering brilliance as
Captain Jack Sparrow. Hell, even the Academy had to swallow their
usual stuffiness and hand him a Best Actor nomination for what
was, basically, a pantomime performance. This week’s Secret
Windowfinds him once again fighting a valiant battle against a
mediocre script. A Stephen King adaptation, it gives him a chance
to playfully undermine his sex-symbol status as a grubby,
dishevelled novelist (Mort Rainey), holed-up alone in a log cabin
following a split from his wife. Shuffling around in a mangy
dressing gown, surviving on Doritos and cigarettes, Mort battles
writer’s block in a lovesick stupour. Life isn’t
exactly made any easier by the appearance of a wacko redneck
(John Turturro), angrily claiming that Mort plagiarised a story
of his. Rather than letting their lawyers settle it, he wants do
things the good old-fashioned psycho way involving vendettas and
imaginative intimidation. Of course, this being a psycho movie,
Johnny stubbornly remains in his creepy cabin in the woods, even
while all those other dispensable peripheral characters receive
screwdrivers in their heads with quick succession. As terrifying
as all this may sound, the film actually works much better as a
light comedy than a thriller, thanks to Depp’s bumbling
amiability as Mort and some beautifully deadpan one-liners. But
as welcome as this light relief may be, it only succeeds in
making the film strangely schizophrenic in tone; an uneasy
marriage of humour and horror. Mind you, all this would still be forgivable if the finale
didn’t feature a twist so ludicrous it makes The Sixth
Senseseem one-dimensional. It’s one of those ones that
doesn’t stagger you with its ingeniousness but just leaves
you feeling cheated when the assumptions you’ve built up and
interest you’ve invested in characters are left completely
redundant. The unintentional irony of Mort’s remark, that
“the only thing that matters is the ending. It’s the
most important part of the story”, only adds salt to the
audience’s wounds. You’re left wishing that Johnny had
heeded his own warning. And fired his agent while he was at it.ARCHIVE: 1st week TT 2004 

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