Secret Window: Depp always worth the price of admission


March 16, 2004, midnight | By John Visclosky | 16 years, 10 months ago


Let's begin with Johnny Depp, since more people seem to be concerned with the odd-ball leading man himself than with his newest movie, Secret Window. He's got terrific presence, with just a hint of wicked humor beneath the fashionably rumpled bathrobe he seems to be sewed into. He suggests that his character can be dangerous, even though it's often frustrating how impotent his emotionally inept writer can be. And he is, as always, a joy to watch. Secret Window may not be as scary or as exciting or as shocking as writer/director David Koepp (who also wrote Spider-Man and Jurassic Park) may have hoped, but Depp sure takes it for a ride.

Life hasn't been too kind to author Mort Rainey (Depp). His wife left him for a guy who seems to be trying his darndest to steal Mort's life, and things have just gone downhill from there. On top of being stuck in horrible writer's block, a creepy farmer named John Shooter (John Turturro) keeps accusing the Mort of "steelin' mah storay."

When the family dog turns up with a screwdriver in his neck, Mort calls on a private-detective (Charles S. Dutton) as a makeshift bodyguard. Although Mort readily confesses to plagiarizing once before, he is absolutely sure that this Shooter guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Still, as with any conventional thriller, the bodies begin piling up, until Mort realizes that maybe, just maybe, there is some deeper secret behind Shooter's harassment than a simple case of suspected plagiarism.

Turturro is at his creepiest, and like Depp, he seems to have lowered the movie's budget by never bothering to change his clothes. The Southern drawl is overdone, and it takes him far too long to get off lines like, "Yu scare toooo easay." But that's the point, isn't it? It's far scarier when the psycho does everything just as slow as he pleases, because he knows that he will eventually get the good guy come hell or highwater.

Although the movie changes the original ending of the Stephen King novella Secret Window, Secret Garden (for the better), Koepp does indulge in a few Stephen Kingisms earlier established by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining. There is a marriage on the rocks, a writer who just can't seem to write anymore, various murders with sharp and blunt object alike, and an isolated hero who is always the last one to realize that maybe it was a mistake to go and build a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention King's infatuation with phonetic word puzzles – Secret Windows' trick is not quite as smart as "redrum," but it's just as creepy when the final realization dawns.

And how exactly can Johnny Depp be described these days. He's scary, but also funny. He's menacing, but comically loser-ish. He's cool, but he just won't get rid of that worn-out bathrobe. He's got a bag full of facial ticks that evolve throughout the movie, but it seems that he could be just as interesting doing nothing at all.

Depp, above everything else, seems to be the entire point of Secret Window. Throw a marginal movie behind an enigmatic star, and there's bound to be even the littlest spark of ingenuity. But Secret Window suffers from Cast-Away-syndrome: The whole movie is just one person, out in the middle of nowhere, doing close to nothing.

Sure Depp is amusing, and the supporting cast – led by Timothy Hutton – have their moments. But the scares and surprises that Koepp serves up seem to be rehashed and overcooked, reminiscent of the anarchic energy of old Stephen King movies, and trying too hard to be hip and flashy.

Secret Window is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, sexual content and language.



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John Visclosky. John Visclosky is, suffice it to say, "hardly the sharpest intellectual tool in the shed," which is why he has stupidly chosen to here address himself in the third person. He's a mellow sort of guy who enjoys movies and sharing his feelings and innermost … More »

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