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Lost in a funk: Depp in Secret Window.

Writer’s Block
By Ann Morrow

Secret Window
Directed by David Koepp

In Secret Window, adapted from a Stephen King novella, Johnny Depp plays a mystery writer holed up in a country bungalow. Mort Rainey has produced exactly one sentence of his latest work, and it’s not a very good one. Rousing himself from a nap—that by the appearance of his plastered vertical hair has lasted intermittently for the six months he’s been there—he tells his dog, “No bad writing,” and deletes the sentence. He shambles around in a ratty bathrobe, annoyed by every distraction, such as the solicitations of his kindly housekeeper, whom he razzes behind her back. Mort’s writerly funk is the most engaging part of Secret Window, a rote psychological thriller directed by David Koepp.

Psychology the film has, thanks to Depp’s entertaining yet palpably sad performance. Thrilling it’s not. Halfway through, the film becomes a less-violent rehash of The Dark Half, the 1993 adaptation of a King novel starring Timothy Hutton. Hutton here plays Mort’s nemesis, Ted, whom Mort caught in bed with his adored wife, Amy (Maria Bello). Now Amy and Ted are a couple, and Mort is losing his house in the divorce settlement. No wonder he is too depressed to be seriously alarmed when John Shooter (John Turturro), a farmer from Mississippi wearing an unnervingly ridiculous hat, shows up at his door to accuse Mort of having plagiarized his short story. But Shooter doesn’t want compensation; he wants Mort to rewrite his story to conform with the ending the farmer wrote. And if Mort doesn’t, well . . . Shooter is supernaturally skilled at sneaking up on people in the night. But Mort’s every effort to obtain the magazine his story was published in, a full year before Shooter wrote his, goes horribly awry. That Mort’s depression might be masking some serious passive-aggression is brought out by Shooter, who shows up at the worst times—like right after Mort’s divorce hearing.

With his exaggerated, taciturn drawl, Turturro is strikingly bizarre as Shooter, and Hutton is remarkably good as Ted, a domineering weenie who seems to think he’s justified in wrecking Mort’s marriage. But Secret Window belongs entirely to Depp, which is good, because the film has almost no suspense, and Depp’s affecting melancholy and physical creativity fill in the blanks. It’s also bad because this portrait of a cuckolded writer who spends too much time alone is more interesting than anything that happens around him, no matter how murderous (especially when Mort is getting back at Ted with some bratty zingers): The film’s predictable dark side becomes an annoyance that gets in the way of a more intriguing domestic drama. But for all those fans who got through the willy-silly parts of Pirates of the Caribbean solely on its Depp charge, Secret Window provides an even more generous showcase for the actor’s potent whimsy.

Showing His Age

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London
Directed by Kevin Allen

The powers that be who are behind the burgeoning Cody Banks franchise have a problem on their hands, specifically, the fact that star Frankie Muniz is no longer a) a kid or b) recognizabley nerdy. The 18-year old, known mostly for his work on TV’s Malcolm in the Middle, has crossed over into the realm of “cool”—at least if MTV, Nick News, US magazine, etc., can be believed. Whereas in Agent Cody Banks, much of the humor derived from the lead character’s social ineptitude, the latest edition, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, focuses on Cody’s premature maturity and inability to lighten up. As his new partner Derek Bauman (Anthony Anderson) instructs, “Act like a kid—that’s why they recruited you!”

The change in focus doesn’t go over that well with the youngest viewers, who will probably prefer the fart jokes of the first installment. Nevertheless, there are enough funny moments to go around for most preteens, although their parents will be wishing there were more of the humorous exchanges between Cody and his unsuspecting mom (Cynthia Stevenson), who still treats her secret-agent offspring as a tyke who can’t possibly handle nail clippers or real scissors. In these scenes, Muniz’s expressions and reactions are priceless, whereas in the rest of the movie, he could just as well be any actor. One can’t help but be reminded of those painful movies in which Mickey Rooney, by then married and quite, er, mature despite his pint-size physique, was compelled to play juveniles.

Luckily, there are enough high-tech gizmos (exploding Mentos get prominent, amusing play) and wacky characters to make us forget Muniz’s, and the plot’s, shortcomings. Anderson is likeable, although if his character’s name were Amos I wouldn’t have been surprised, and newcomer Hannah Spearitt as a British intelligence officer is fresh and pretty, a likely, if unthreatening, wet dream for Cody. Anna Chancellor is relegated to playing the dotty proprietess of an English school for talented musicians. She seems to have fun doing so, however; as for the young musicians, well, they too are likeable and get to enjoy a “cool” moment of their own, when their virtuosity helps Cody nab the bad guys. Oddly enough, it made me wish that this little orchestra had their own movie franchise: geeky yet talented musicians who solve mysteries and save the world, in between sets. Something tells me it would have infinitely more staying power than the quickly aging Cody Banks franchise.

—Laura Leon

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