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Not Happening: M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller is all scenery and no substance 

click to enlarge mark Wahlberg and the world's largest bowling bag on tour.
  • mark Wahlberg and the world's largest bowling bag on tour.
mark Wahlberg and the world's largest bowling bag on tour. M. Night doesn't make horror movies; he makes long Twilight Zone episodes.

Shyamalan is known for his narrative twist and turns and surprise endings, but he can't conjure his way out of The Happening's poorly executed script. Most of M's tricks are here but the gimmicks are starting to resemble an aging genre hack. Even his obligatory Hitchcock-esque cameo isn't onscreen-the credits are the only place you'll find him.

Unfortunately right when the film gets eerie, it also gets stupid. Underdeveloped characters are complemented by dismal performances from the actors. The initial scene with Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Julian (John Leguizamo) is about as phony as movie dialogue gets. And Elliot's marriage to Alma (Zooey Deschanel) isn't remotely convincing. Soap opera dialogue runs rampant with idiotic attempts at tension-releasing comedic banter. The relationship between the two leads is so cute and demeaning that I almost left the theater. Wahlberg plays a guy who keeps it together in the face of doom, but his wimp voice and crybaby attitude dominate the entire evacuation sojourn. He more or less just walks through the role. He had a few chances to chew up the scene. Instead he's a perpetual one-note grimace. Deschanel just runs around batting her baby blues like some kind of coma victim showing us vapidity gone wild. Responding to the theory that terrorists have devised a toxin to make people kill themselves, Alma utters the ridiculous line, "Just when you think no more evil could be invented..."

There are major plot holes in this thing. Is the toxin carried by the wind? Is plant life attacking? If so, why did it allow a car to smash into a tree?

M. Night did, however, score big with legendary cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. As a result, the cinematography is the best part of the film and I think M. Night knows this. The coolest stuff is simply the wind rustling leaves in the trees, an effect that makes the breeze-blown grass in fields look creepy- no insipid dialogue, just visuals. The silence speaks the loudest. And thanks to an R-rating upgrade, we get some blood-spewing and clever demises: death by lawnmower, zoo lions mauling a keeper, and workers dropping off construction sites.

In the end this movie's message (stay with the one you love) turns out to be cute, not creepy nor scary. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the fact that I was keeping an eye out for all the clues to M. Night's twist ending. The twist is that there is no twist. Apparently M. Night has given up on twist endings - and on giving us decent movies to watch. The Happening is all about the quest to find a safe haven. Maybe M. Night should find one and stay there for a while.

The Happening ★✩✩✩
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
Written/Directed by M. Night Shyamalan 

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