King plagiarizes King

“A script for <i>Teletubbies Go to Graceland</i>? Playing the singing grave of Elvis is so up my alley.”

“A script for Teletubbies Go to Graceland? Playing the singing grave of Elvis is so up my alley.”

Rated 2.0

Sure, Stephen King has written some good ones. His stuff has inspired some fine movies (The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, The Green Mile) and some stinkers (Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet). For the most part, his stuff has inspired mediocre fare (Pet Sematary, Hearts in Atlantis), and the latest adaptation of his literary work, Secret Window, falls into that category.

The Shining, Misery and The Dark Half have played with the theme of writers in trouble. Secret Window examines this theme yet again, as fiction writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) has some difficulties at his secluded cottage in upstate New York. Going through a divorce and prone to intense napping, Rainey is visited by a tall, menacing figure named Shooter (John Turturro) with a Southern drawl, and he’s got a grievance.

Shooter insists that Rainey stole a story he wrote, and he leaves his manuscript on the porch to prove it. Word for word, the manuscript matches a story Rainey published a few years back, one he emphatically believes is his own. A showdown begins as Shooter terrorizes Rainey, demanding he give him story credit and change the ending back to the one he intended. Of course, the bodies of neighbors and pets pile up, and we’re supposed to buy the notion that Shooter is the man responsible.

King and director David Koepp have a little fun with the idea of plagiarism and the notion that an author could rip someone off and not even know it. The film is actually pretty sturdy when it deals with this portion of its plot, but it goes off track as overly familiar King themes become more prominent. As with The Dark Half, the film deals with the duality of a writer (in simple terms, the good side and the bad side), and as more aspects of Rainey’s psyche become revealed, it becomes obvious that the movie is nothing but a thinly disguised rehash of Half.

Many viewers who have read King will know that something other than the tremendously obvious is afoot. Turturro, although an interesting enough character, will most certainly turn out to be more than a nasty southerner looking for payback.

Those who go to the film accepting the fact that the movie is not as clever as it thinks it is might get enjoyment out of Depp’s reliably eccentric performance. Decked out with thick glasses and his trademark messy hair, he’s a convincing tortured artist going through the death of a relationship. An instant where the usually grim Rainey shows up happy as heck, teeth adorned with a new set of braces, is quintessential Depp.

Until the film really derails in its final quarter, Depp keeps things floating.

Turturro’s Shooter got on my nerves for all the wrong reasons. I found the character too typical, the sort of one-dimensional joke that plagues King’s lesser works. Maria Bello isn’t asked to do much as Rainey’s soon-to-be ex-wife, but she does fine with the little she’s given. Timothy Hutton is cast as her lover, and this isn’t the greatest ideas, considering he starred in the similar and not-so-good The Dark Half.

It’s funny that the film deals with plagiarism, considering that it actually feels as if King ripped himself off when he wrote it. Maybe that’s supposed to be part of the joke. Regardless, Secret Window doesn’t work as a thriller because it has no real element of surprise. Depp fans will have plenty to chew on, but they might find themselves wondering why their hero chose to participate in such routine swill.