March 12, 2004 | As Mort Rainey, a
seriously blocked author who's woozily drunk on self-pity, Johnny Depp
spends most of Secret Window looking
like the “Before” half of a “Before and After” ad for personal grooming
products. He's perpetually unshaven and disheveled – his tangled thatch
of oily blond hair practically defines the term “bed head” – and he never
indicates that bathing is very high on his list of priorities.
When we first meet Rainey – that is, before
the creaky plot mechanics are set into motion by writer-director David
Koepp ( Stir of Echoes ) – he's
spending too much time on the comfy couch of his secluded country cabin,
mired in a deep blue funk. He's in the midst of a messy divorce from
Amy (Maria Bello), his wife of several years, who's already involved
with another man (Timothy Hutton). Rainey can't decide whether he hates
Amy, or wants to see her again, or wants to see her so he can tell her
how much he hates her. Worse, he can't write, either.
It takes an unwelcome visit from a menacing
stranger to rouse Rainey from his stupor. John Shooter (John Turturro),
a drawling dairy farmer from Mississippi, appears at Rainey's cabin
to seek payback for plagiarism. Specifically, he wants comeuppance – and, more important, a major rewrite – for
a story he claims that Rainey stole from him. A story, it should be noted,
narrated by a character who murders his wife.
Rainey insists that Shooter is mistaken.
Shooter insists he is not. Threats are made, people are killed, secrets
are revealed – and Secret
Window , which begins as a mildly intriguing thriller, gradually
devolves into preposterous hokum. It doesn't help much that the movie
relies on a “surprise twist” to explain the seemingly illogical behavior
of key characters. And it doesn't help at all that this twist -- adapted,
like the rest of the plot, from a Stephen King novella – is easy to predict
after the first 20 or so minutes.
Depp does his best to distract from the movie's shortcomings with an
aggressively stylized, borderline-campy performance that seems only slightly
more naturalistic than his Oscar-nominated scenery-chewing in Pirates
of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl . (At one
point, he actually gets to play a scene opposite… himself.) His attention-grabbing
excess is undeniably fun to watch, even while the movie itself stumbles
from one absurdity to the next. But it's a bit disconcerting to see so
fine an actor becoming such an incorrigible hambone so early in his career.
Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier at least had the good grace to wait
until they were well into middle age before they began to rely so heavily
on tics and shtick, mugs and shrugs, while slumming their way toward