Movie News & Reviews

The Happening isn't likeable, but it's enjoyable

I recently had a swarm of bees living in my front yard, so in thosethree months where I didn't leave the house, I became something of anexpert on them.

For instance, queen bees lay unfertilized eggs that turn into drones,then mate with those drones to create worker bees. Do you have anyidea what kind of inbreeding that leads to? Me neither, but I'm stillcleaning bee-sized Confederate flags from the yard. One of theeffects, though, is an incredibly low amount of genetic diversitywithin a colony -- meaning if one bee catches a disease or parasite outon her pollen-gathering wandering, then brings it back to the nest,there's a good chance the rest of them are going to be vulnerable toit, too. Voila! The whole hive collapses.

Huzzah! Science solves another mystery! Unless, like writer/directorM. Night Shyamalan, you just want to use it as a jumping-off point fora spooky movie like The Happening, in which case it's treatedlike an incomprehensible event beyond our pathetic humanunderstanding.

In The Happening, New York is under attack: starting in CentralPark, people are stopping in their tracks, dazed, then killingthemselves. It's pandemic, some kind of airborne toxin.

In Philly, schoolteacher Mark Wahlberg and wife Zooey Deschanel hop ona train just before the attack hits their city, too. Soon, the trainstops -- the toxin's spreading throughout cities of the Northeast.

Left without transportation, Wahlberg and Deschanel hitch a ride witha gardener who's got a theory: the plants are behind it. Plants cancommunicate, release chemicals to kill bugs and animals they view as athreat. Wahlberg and company's only chance, then, is to head to themiddle of nowhere, where the toxin hasn't hit, and wait it out.

If it's too much to ask that a movie be good, the most you can hopefor is that it's as crazy, dumb, unbelievable -- and occasionallyskillful -- as The Happening. I'm not a registered Shyamalanhater, but if an anti-him riot started up, I wouldn't be abovethrowing a brick through a Blockbuster window hoping to hit a copy ofLady in the Water. So let's get this out of the way: hedoesn't totally suck. He's good at building suspense and great atframing shots. The Happening does have a number of effectivemoments, especially in the jarringly matter-of-fact suicides pepperedthrough the film.

When it comes to the writing, it's a lot less effective, starting withthe story and ending with the dialogue. The dialogue! If there areany robots reading this, I'd advise you to power down now because thefollowing paradox will blow your circuits like a toaster in a bathtub. Deschanel's character is supposed to be an introvert, someoneuncomfortable expressing herself, right? Yet here's one of her lines:"We're so much alike! I don't like to show my emotions either!"

Is that right? Because if that's true, then I have a hard timebelieving you'd just come right out and say -- oh my god, I think SkyNetjust exploded. Well, like Aristophanes said, when you can't figureout how to show how your characters feel, just have them blurt it out.

Wahlberg and Tyler do what they can -- and there are a few intentionallyfunny lines mixed in with all the hamfisted exposition and half-bakedideas -- but there's only so much you can bring to the material.

As for the story -- man. I can't decide whether killer trees is alegitimate plot device or so stupendously silly it's beyond attack.Whatever the case, it was fun, which is more than can be said forThe Happening's fizzle-out ending or nonstop parade of insaneside characters. Really, the whole movie's a heaping pile ofcontradiction: a funny line followed by something unutterably stupid,a creepy suicide paired up with an old lady so crazy it's justconfusing.

Overall, the army of failure vastly outnumbers the forces of success.You could easily hate The Happening. For me, though, when theawfulness carried the day, it was with more of a cheery drunken partymood than with that angry, itchy feeling that I just wasted more of myshort life watching a crummy movie. I wouldn't say I liked TheHappening, but I did enjoy it.

Grade: C+