Review in a Hurry: This preposterous Cameron Diaz thriller offers a promising premise: A mysterious box bestows riches in exchange for killing a stranger. But then it dumps in existentialism, government conspiracies, aliens, nosebleeds, deformities—and dresses it all in ugly '70s polyester fashions and geo-print wallpaper. Blecch.
The Bigger Picture: Bring back the giant rabbit! Director of the lyrical, haunting Donnie Darko (but then the critically panned Southland Tales) Richard Kelly just can't seem to catch lightning again—especially not in this empty Box.
Instead, lightning strikes sinister Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), a smooth-talking, Bond-worthy baddie. Sporting a gaping CGI burn hole in his face, Steward presents a bizarre box and proposition to Virginia couple Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Diaz, with an unconvincing Southern accent). If they press the button on top, they'll get $1 million—but also murder someone they don't know.
Of course, this offer comes with rules—and their eventual actions contain consequences.
What should've been a taut suburban frightfest is a failed morality experiment and Twlight Zone retread. The increasingly ludicrous plot, loosely based on Richard Matheson's classic short story "Button, Button" (as was a Twilight Zone ep), wanders into alien territory—literally—with nonsense involving Mars transmissions, Steward's posse of mind-controlled drones (zombies?) and clunky speeches about humanity and sacrifice.
Unintentionally funny moments abound, including Arthur's face-off with a nose-bleeding Librarian of the Damned, who forces him to choose a pathway to salvation. For some reason, said salvation involves huge water pods—and a later sacrificial ceremony involves a bubbling swimming pool.
Set in 1976, the pic plays like silly '60s sci-fi—but with a sizable budget for special FX and actors (though none of the above impress). Langella's presence does class things up a bit, but he gets saddled with awful lines like, "I have done nothing. I am just a vessel."
This is one Box that should've been left on the shelf.
The 180—a Second Opinion: It's groovy seeing iconic shows of the period—Alice, What's Happening, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson—playing on the Lewises' TV. Too bad we're not watching that box instead.
Don't get stuck in The Box. Check out our 2009 Holiday Movie Guide for more options!