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Push The Button
The Box (DVD)
Member Name: collingwood21
The Box (DVD)
Date: 20/08/11, updated on 20/08/11 (76 review reads)
Advantages: James Marsden, Period detail, Good initial premise
Disadvantages: Cameron Diaz, Plot unravels and goes rapidly downhill after initial premise
The Box - FILM ONLY REVIEW
Running time: 110 minutes
Certificate: 12A (UK) / PG13 (USA)
The problem with having your debut movie become a cult favourite is that you are setting yourself up for a fall with your subsequent releases. Writer-director Richard Kelly is a perfect example of this: "Donnie Darko" good, "Southland Tales" bad, and "The Box"...well, also fairly bad. You might argue that the Donnie Darko link might have lead viewers to expect more from The Box than it was ever really capable of delivering, but I only found out that Kelly was involved as the end credits mercifully rolled, so I had no expectations greater than the thought it might be a mildly entertaining 1 hour 50 minutes. And I still found it to be pretty bad.
The Box is based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by the science fiction writer Richard Matheson, which was later made into a 30-minute episode of The Twilight Zone. By taking this idea and expanding it onto a feature length film, Kelly has produced a case-study of why short stories are different form novels. The basic idea is an intriguing one. Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) and husband Arthur (James Marsden) are woken early one morning by a stranger (Frank Langella) delivering a package. The package contains a box with a large red button in it, which the stranger explains comes with an offer - they will have the box for 24 hours, and if either one of them chooses to push the button in it during that time, he will give them one million dollars in cash. For a family with a young child "living paycheque to paycheque" this offer seems irresistible, but it naturally comes with a catch: pressing the button will cause someone, somewhere (who they don't know) to die. If they call the police or involve anyone else in the decision, the deal is off.
Decision, decisions. What are the Lewis family going to do? The box is empty, so how will the stranger know if they push the button or not - and how could it possibly kill someone if they do? What harm could it do to humour this rich madman and take his money? But what sort of weird Faustian pact could they be making if they do? What are they prepared to live with to give their family the financial security that would allow them to continue their lifestyle without worrying about the next bill that arrives?
At this point the intrigue ends for me and I can see how a short story or half-hour episode could quickly bring this idea to a satisfying ending. However, the makers of The Box have now set themselves up with another 90 minutes to fill, so the film has to turn from an interesting moral dilemma, so beautiful in its simplicity, into a quasi-thriller in which the identity of the stranger and the reasons behind his offer have to be teased out while weird things continue to happen around Norma and Arthur. The story at this point reminds me very much of episodes of the X Files when it reached its frustratingly complex phase: mysterious and nonsensical plot leaps, supernatural nosebleeds, talk of government conspiracy, creepiness, and paranoia shovelled in like it's going out of fashion. The story ends up too big, too confused, too long, too slowly paced and utterly tiresome long before it reaches its welcome - and rather predictable - conclusion.
There were a couple of small points that redeem The Box somewhat. I liked Marsden in his role; he looked convincing and confidant throughout, and worked well with the often ropey dialogue he was given. The same cannot be said for his co-star, however. I suspect Diaz realised too late that she had signed herself up for a ludicrous film and as a consequence could not see the point of putting any effort into her part. Her character - not exactly exciting or rounded to begin with - seems unnatural in this setting, and her attempt at an intermittent Southern accent sounds embarrassingly fake. She was as clearly miscast in this role as Marsden worked well in his. There was another positive in the way the period setting was lovingly created with its garish colours, lurid wallpaper and flamboyant cars; this was as clearly a film set in the seventies as Donnie Darko was set in the eighties.
From the evidence of The Box, it looks like Kelly is dangerously close to getting a bad dose of the M Night Shyamalans, with his love for turning interesting ideas into overly long and overly freaky codswallop. If it is mysterious men with boxes offering money that you want, I think you would be better off watching Deal or No Deal - or better yet watching the original Twilight Zone episode.
Summary: There are some buttons that are made to not be pressed