With such a simple title, how can ‘The Box’ end up being so convoluted? Thank director/writer Richard Kelly (the mastermind behind Southland Tales, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen) for that costly gaffe. This film had the promise to be exceptional, marked by its beginning and ending, but the middle wrapped itself in tangled conundrums and it never managed to fully correct itself.
Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), a suburban couple with a young child, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger (Frank Langella), delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. But, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world; someone they don’t know. With just 24 hours to have the box in their possession, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a startling moral dilemma and must face the true nature of their humanity.
The message at its core is the avarice of men and how its implications will set off the cataclysmic genocide of mankind. This deep philosophical notion was not told well by Kelly. I don’t mind a mental challenge while at the movies, but at least provide me with some clarirty while you tell it. His adapted script is based on the short story ‘Button, Button’ from legendary fantasy writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come) and it is quite seductive and full of intrigue. Kelly’s version had the chance to be just as good if it weren’t for the occasional hiccups.
On the other hand, Ms. Diaz, of cuban ancestors, and Mr. Marsden (Enchanted, 27 Dresses) did a wonderful job of deciphering the jumbled script to give, in my opinion, strong and compelling performances. Marsden, in particular, is good every time out. Even in family fare such as ‘Enchanted’ (he was hilarious in it), Marsden can be proud of his work. Unfortunately, Langella just didn’t have enough to work from here.
Was it suspenseful? Yes. Was it interesting and compelling? Yes. Did it get so incoherent that it irrevocably lost me? Yes to that! Enjoy the film if you so choose, but remember, you’re also paying more than you should for it. It is not a bad film, but wait, wait, wait for it on DVD.