Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is a successful novelist who is trying to work through
a divorce from his wife, Amy (Maria Bello, "The Cooler"), and his own writer's
block with lazy afternoon naps and a steady diet of junk food. Enter John
Shooter (John Turturro), a mysterious Mississippi amateur author who claims that
Mort stole one of his stories. Shooter is a dangerous threat to Mort, and gives
him three days to prove that he didn't plagiarize his tale. Mort, growing
increasingly paranoid, tries to figure out just why Shooter is after him, and
how to stop the stranger from murdering everyone around him.
"Secret Window" (IMDb listing) is based on the Stephen King short story, "Secret Window, Secret
Garden," which appeared in his collection, "Four Past Midnight." Film
adaptations from King's short stories have been successful before ("Stand By
Me"), but stretching out a limited amount of material into a 90-minute feature
film is a very tricky proposal. Writer/director David Koepp has been
experimenting with low-tech thrillers for years now ("The Trigger Effect," "Stir
of Echoes"), but he hasn't mastered the genre yet, and "Window" holds a
magnifying glass to Koepp's unwieldy mistakes with the formula, as well as his
poor judgment in choosing this paper-thin story to develop for the big screen.
"Window" is a small, intimate horror/suspense story, with Koepp heading down
King's familiar "The Shining" pathway of writer's block and claustrophobia with
conviction. The film is arranged in very broad strokes, with Koepp paying heavy
tribute to Hitchcock throughout the film, from the precise angles of the
cinematography to Philip Glass' thundering Herrmannesque score. And Koepp's
resuscitation of the master's style is the best element of "Window." In the
writing, the film is tarted up with thickly imagined characters, derivative
motivations, twists upon twists, and some late-in-the-game character development
from Amy that stops the film dead. Koepp is straining the entire film to stretch
this fleeting story into a full-length feature, but it only results in sluggish
storytelling and an eventual lack of interest. Nothing in the film gels into
true suspense. Koepp the director has much more fun finding ways to cover the
tepid insanity, but even that wears out its welcome fairly quickly with an
overabundance of "boo!" scares and PG-13 neutered mayhem. By this time, any
curiosity about Mort's dilemma is long gone, but Koepp keeps dragging the dull
story along regardless.
Of course, there is a last minute twist to all this intense labor. Instead of
being gently massaged into the framework of the film, Koepp simply drops the
surprise like an anvil on the narrative, as if to say, "OK, enough is enough.
Let's just get this beast over with." Pay attention to "Secret Window," and you
can guess the twist pretty easily. Sleep through most of "Secret Window," and
you're likely to figure it out just as easily.
Filmfodder Grade: C-