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Latest Stephen King adaptation plays fun but familiar games

SHADOWS AND FOG Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) gets thoroughly haunted by the creepy John Shooter (John Turturro) lurking in the mist at every turn.

SHADOWS AND FOG Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) gets thoroughly haunted by the creepy John Shooter (John Turturro) lurking in the mist at every turn.

Secret Window
Starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton. Directed by David Koepp. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

It used to be that Stephen King’s name would be the major selling point of any movie based on one of his works. Anymore, though—with seemingly one good (or at least tolerable) adaptation for every 10 egregious entries—it’s no surprise that the man’s brand is conspicuously absent as a selling point here.

In his novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” on which this is based, King returns to his well-worn theme of the endangered writer. Evoking elements of both Misery and The Dark Half, he gives us tortured pop writer Mort Rainey. Mort has issues, serious issues. Six months after finding his wife in a seedy motel with another man, he fights off writer’s block in a remote lakeside cabin. Morbidly depressed, he sleeps his days away in a ratty bathrobe that used to be his wife’s (his hair suffering a flashback to Edward Scissorhands). Things can’t get much worse.

Well, yes they can. One morning, he is awakened by the arrival of a slow-talking stranger from Mississippi calling himself John Shooter (a creepily menacing John Turturro). Shooter is none too happy with Mort, claiming that the writer ripped off a story he had written years before. Worse yet, he is furious that Mort changed the ending. Mort of course indignantly denies the charge. He has proof that he wrote the story years before Shooter claims to have—uh, somewhere.

Shooter doesn’t really believe this and gives Mort a three-day deadline in which to cough up the proof. And woe to anyone that Mort draws into this mano a mano showdown. Of course, Shooter isn’t just some random fruit loop, and people start showing up dead as Mort tries to figure out exactly what the psycho’s motivations truly are.

Most of the way through, Secret Window plays out like it is going to be another one of those tepid King entries, with seeming flaws in continuity and motivations. However, the resolution (while a bit corny) neatly ties things up. Writer/director David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, The Trigger Effect) plays fair here, though, leaving enough clues that the attentive viewer can pretty much figure out the twist fairly early on. Add to that the amusing parallel in that, while the character of Shooter is murderously offended that Mort changed the ending of the story he claims to have originally written, Koepp tweaks King’s story himself by changing the ending from the original. Some fun.

While not especially suspenseful, Secret Window is still moderately entertaining matinee fare, with occasional in-jokes (such as a Hunter S. Thompson paperback on Depp’s coffee table) to keep one amused during the slow moments. It is essentially another showcase for Depp to quirk his way about, and perhaps in the hands of another actor the project wouldn’t have been as compelling. Also, Timothy Hutton is perfectly sleazy in a nice touch of ironic casting (think his earlier turn as the endangered writer in The Dark Half) as the man who stole Mort’s wife.