SECRET WINDOW, THE

PG-13
Reviews

Despite some highbrow elements, Secret Window is a routine suspense story that recycles several of Stephen King's pet themes with middling results. With plenty of padding but few real shocks, the film's box office will depend on how willing viewers are to put up with a tongue-in-cheek performance from Johnny Depp.

Depp plays Mort Rainey, a mystery writer who has separated from his wife Amy (Maria Bello) after finding her in bed with Ted Milner (Timothy Hutton). Alone in an isolated lakeside cabin in Maine, Rainey drifts through days sleeping on his couch, wrestling with his latest story, and reenacting the end of his marriage. That is until Southerner John Shooter (John Turturro) knocks on his door.

The menacing Shooter insists that Rainey plagiarized his story, 'Sowing Season.' Rainey sloughs him off, but later reads his manuscript. It turns out to be the same as 'Secret Window,' a story he wrote about a man plotting the murder of his wife. After his dog is killed with a screwdriver, Rainey meets his tormentor on a dirt road. Shooter promises to leave him alone if Rainey can prove that he wrote his version of the story first.

To do that, Rainey has to get the magazine in which it appeared. Rainey kept a copy in the home outside New York City where Amy now lives, but she is only interested in getting him to sign their divorce papers. New York lawyer Ken Karsch (Charles S. Dutton) comes up to Maine to help, but it may be too late. Someone burns down Amy's house. Then Karsch turns up murdered.

By that point, even diehard King fans will be questioning the story's logic. Director and screenwriter David Koepp tries to pump up tension with tight close-ups and an ominous soundtrack, but can't find a way to untangle plotlines that end up leading nowhere anyway. Those willing to forgive narrative inconsistencies for a few good jolts will be disappointed as well. The film's approach to madness and horror--bleached-out flashbacks, a lame Magritte reference, some strikingly bad Southern accents--is too prosaic to scare anyone.

As the estranged wife, Bello takes her part more seriously than it deserves, while Turturro and Hutton are largely wasted. Depp supplies enough mannerisms to keep his writer interesting, but alternates between trying too hard to compensate for a less-than-worthy script and parodying the whole business. It's the same approach Jack Nicholson used in The Shining. In fact, much of Secret Window will seem old-hat to anyone who knows what 'redrum' means.

-Daniel Eagan