Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Marsden
Directed by Richard Kelly
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Richard Kelly. His films have caused quite a ruckus over the years. From the much beloved cult hit Donnie Darko to the much reviled Southland Tales, his fanbase is immense, rabid, and sometimes just plain confused. I love his work. Even the aforementioned Southland Tales. On paper Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button, on which this film was based, looked like perfect fodder for Kelly, but in the end short is exactly how this story should have stayed.
The doorbell rings very early one morning at the home of Norma and Arthur (Diaz and Marsden). On their doorstep is a package containing a wooden box with a button housed beneath a glass dome. Later on a mysterious man named Mr. Steward (a great Langella) arrives with an interesting offer; if Norma and Arthur press the button, they will receive a million dollars, but somewhere, someone they do not know, will die. As you well know, the button gets pressed, and the consequences end up being … well … muddled.
There are lots of reasons why this flick doesn’t quite work, the most staggering of which is that the couple in question really don’t seem to need the money they are offered. Arthur is a friggin’ rocket scientist at NASA! Really? In the story and even the “Twilight Zone” episode based upon it, the characters were extremely poor and on the verge of financial and personal collapse. There were stakes involved. Here, there’s nothing like that going on so it’s really hard to connect with the characters, much less feel for their plight. To further screw things up, instead of just sticking to the original and spooky premise, Kelly decides to spend the next two hours giving every conceivable “out there” existential reason for these events that he possibly can. Sometimes the less we know, the better off we are. This is one of those cases.
In terms of whether to buy the DVD or the Blu-ray, I have to give it to Warner Brothers here. They include both in one package along with a digital copy. Now that’s how you save shelf space! The only problem is if you don’t have a Blu-ray player, you won’t be able to see the lion’s share of the supplemental material. Still, it’s not like that is in abundance either.
The main attraction here is Kelly’s commentary, which was much needed. In it he addresses the choices he made as well as how the story is a very personal one to him (he also covers this in the Grounded in Reality featurette). I’d hazard to say this is well worth a listen regardless of how you feel about the film itself. The next bit worthy of your attention is the Richard Matheson: In His Own Words featurette. Sadly, while interesting, it runs a scant five minutes. Come on, guys! Matheson is not only one of the more interesting people still working within the genre, but he’s eighty-three! LET HIM SPEAK! From there we get your usual short-form behind-the-scenes stuff and a couple of music videos.
In the end we learn that sometimes a short story is meant to be just that. Short. The Box will no doubt raise lots of arguments and is at times a competent morality play. It just gets weighted down with so much needless crap that the good things end up being buried by all of the nonsense.
2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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