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Secret Window (PG-13) (2004)

Columbia Pictures

Official Site

Director: David Koepp

Producers: Gavin Polone

Written by: David Koepp; based on novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King

Cast: Johnny Depp, Maria Bello, John Turturro, Charles S. Dutton, Timothy Hutton


Secret Window is a fairly hard movie to rate for several different reasons. First of all, Columbia has it billed as a horror/thriller, but in reality it actually has more laughs than thrills. Of course, that has much to do with the wonderful (and wonderfully delicious) Johnny Depp, whose wit and timing could infuse a snuff film with humor, but still, it’s pretty sad when a bus (don’t ask) is the only thing that makes me jump. And for a complete and utter wuss to be saying that… well, let’s just say that the PG-13 rating is quite deserved. Then there’s the “surprise ending.” Yeah, great, I love a good twisteroo, buuuuut it kind of needs to work with the rest of the story first. Looking back over the movie, I was constantly like, “Wait, what? But then how… why… what?”

The basic premise is that author Mort Rainey (Depp) is accused of plagiarism by John Shooter (Turturro), a Southern psycho whose attempts to “rectify” the situation are not unfamiliar to certain terrorist groups. The guy clearly doesn’t understand the whole “appropriate response” thing. If someone knocks off your girlfriend, then yeah, sure, go all Lethal Weapon on his ass. If he rips off your story, though, a nasty phone call or a flaming bag of dog poo might be more fitting. Further antagonizing the put-upon author is his impending divorce with former wife Amy (Bello), whose character is so sympathetic that you wonder why good divorces like that don’t happen more often. Timothy Hutton plays Amy’s new beau Ted, who isn’t so sympathetic. I’d pay good money to see Kevin Bacon and Hutton smirk it out for the title of “Ultimate Smarm.”

I’ve never been a big fan of films derived from Stephen King novels—does anyone remember why Carrie was supposed to be scary?—but I actually thought this one showed some promise. I remember going into the theater thinking, “Oh God, I don’t want to see this, oh God, I don’t want to see this.” Thankfully (for me) though, the horror never got around to showing up. I guess it was on an extended coffee break, or something. Now let me re-emphasize that I am a huge ’fraidy-cat (those little sea-monkeys on the Quizno’s commercials scare me), but Secret Window just wasn’t all that terrifying. A blip crossed my radar every now and again, but overall I was just like, “Oh look (yawn), another dead body, how interesting.” Secret Window is definitely not the type of movie you want to take your date to unless she (or he) is just as into being “protected” as you are into being the “protector.”

I was quite disappointed with where Koepp took this film because I felt it could have been a good deal better. The performances were spectacular, but the overall plot just felt weak. Like I said earlier, the ending really doesn’t plug in with the rest of the story. There are more holes in the script than there are in one of Christina Aguilera’s outfits (yeah, we get it, you’re not a Mouseketeer any more, now go put on a sweater). When the credits finally rolled, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. I’m still not, really. Was it a thriller or a comedy? Was it good or bad? Did I like it or did I hate it? Even the answers I did finally pry out of myself were followed by a million “buts.” “Yes, but… no, but… maybe, but…” So to follow suit with those vague and doubtful “buts,” my final word on Secret Window is “feh.” Not great, not horrendous, just, well, “feh.”

— Emily Younger


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