ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Puzzling over what to do this weekend? Well, you could go see the new thriller from the director of "The Sixth Sense." It's called "The Happening," and our critic, Bob Mondello, promises no spoilers.

BOB MONDELLO: People out strolling in Central Park on a beautiful summer's day. Then these strollers stop strolling and stand motionless.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Happening")

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (As character) Do you hear that?

MONDELLO: And the dying starts.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Happening")

Unidentified Woman: (As character) It's weird. These people, it's like they're clawing at themselves.

MONDELLO: Spikes thrusting into jugular veins. Cops putting revolvers to their own foreheads. A weird aerial ballet of construction workers hurling themselves off 30-story buildings. Suicide after suicide until there's no one left to die. As apocalypses go, the one that opens "The Happening" is pretty arresting. But then it needs to be, coming from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, who has made the artful explaining of the inexplicable a profitable little cottage industry for Tinseltown. Whether audiences will find the director's explanations compelling this time is another question, but of course I can't really talk about them. Suffice it to say that the worst thing anyone could possibly do is head out to the countryside, so naturally that's where our little family group goes - earnest science teacher Mark Wahlberg, his emotionally constipated wife, Zooey Deschanel, math teacher John Leguizamo, and his plucky little 6-year-old daughter. Unfortunately the train they take goes to the middle of nowhere.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Happening")

Mr. DEREGE HARDING (Actor): (As Train Conductor) Train service has been discontinued. This will be the last stop for all passengers.

Mr. MARK WAHLBERG (Actor): (As Elliot Moore) What do you mean? Where are we?

Mr. HARDING: (As Train Conductor) Filbert, Pennsylvania.

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Elliot Moore) Filbert? Does anybody know where that is? Why are you giving me one useless piece of information at a time? What's going on? Hey, why would you just stop? You can't just leave us here.

MONDELLO: As natural as Mark Wahlberg can be on screen, he probably shouldn't be required to ask urgent questions for 90 consecutive minutes, nor is it a good idea to have Zooey Deschanel express distress almost exclusively by popping her eyes while pursing her lips. Nor to have John Leguizamo play a teacher who meets certain death with math riddles.

Director Shyamalan, whose career has been offering ever-diminishing returns lately, has been telling interviewers that he does not want to be known as the guy who makes the scary movie with the twist, a plaint that would seem more heartfelt if he'd write or direct something other than a scary movie with a twist. But he's done the next best thing in "The Happening" by making it neither terribly scary nor all that twisty. The bigger danger after this and "The Village" and "The Lady in the Water" is that he'll become known as the guy who makes the inane movie with the idiotic premise. Fortunately, he still has an eye for visuals. Give him a reflective surface and he'll layer information all over it, and to the extent that wind rustling through tall grass can be made threatening, he makes it threatening.

But if what audiences are looking for is a thrill ride or even pervasive eeriness, "The Happening"'s just not happening.

I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.