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Two Past Midnight:
Secret Window, Secret Garden
by Stephen King, Christopher Reeve, James Woods

. "Secret Window"

Welcome aboard the Depp special, in which Johnny demonstrates acting skill that should blow you away. Funny that it took a flawed horror film like this to steer him from the exaggerated characters he's based his career on and which reached its lowest depth (arguably) with a horror of misplaced campiness, "From Hell." Secret Window, however, requires him to convince us of his straight humanity. Here, he's Mort Rainey, a successful novelist, a man unhappily separated from a wife he still loves, and an ex-cigarette junky who will refuse your offer of a cigarette with the cautionery, "I don't smoke any more," while grabbing smokes on the sly. A man to care about, vulnerabilities and all.

That Depp achieves absolute audience-attachment is fair to say. He's funny, charmingly self-effacing, weakly assertive and so in despair over losing his wife Amy (Maria Bello) that he wears her torn bathrobe while he sleeps on the couch by day and flops around his remote lakeside house while trying to spur his muse into beginning his next book. But somehow finding a way to reconcile with his wife and convince her that she doesn't really love her boyfriend Ted (Timothy Hutton) becomes an almost secondary issue when Mr. John Shooter (John Turturro) from Shooter Bay, Mississippi shows up at his door accusing the author of plagiarizing his manuscript for "Secret Window", a short story Rainey wrote years ago. This man is determined that Mort make amends to satisfy his cruel soul, backing up his demands with threats to kill and a warning not to go to the police.

Mort isn't convinced that Shooter's bark is as bad as his bark until he discovers his beloved dog stabbed with a screw driver. Mort's screwdriver. He goes straight to local Sheriff Karsch (Charles Dutton) who seems more interested in his embroidery than providing protection. When faced again with Mr. Shooter, who seems to know everything he's done, Mort scrambles to prove his prior authorship over the work in order to get rid of the madman. The level of danger gets incendiary when Mort's and Amy's house in town is torched.

In a good suspense-mystery drama, the payoff is everything. The one you get here is, unfortunately, the most predicatable one and the one most likely from the pen of Stephen King, whose "Secret Window, Secret Garden" is the basis for this yarn. If you haven't read King, suffice it to say that he tends to shoot himself in the proverbial foot by making drivel out of otherwise promising setups in which good observation of character and vivid description are pervasive. Up until the ending began to penetrate the landscape, I enjoyed this romp with Depp's masterful presence immensely. The rest explains why this pic has been a let down to many.

Production credits are outstanding, beginning with Fred Murphy's virtuosic pallette of light and shade and including Philip Glass' fine score. Bello is her usual brave and feisty self in a role that falls short of her outstanding potential (see "The Cooler"). Tim Hutton shows his best stuff and that he's up to anyone's emotional level. Writer-Director David Koepp well understood the best qualities of the story he adapted his screenplay from, and held back the almost demeaning payoff as long as he could, allowing us to enjoy the straight Depp for as long as possible.

Rarely has there been a movie so at odds with itself. From a character and production standpoint, "Secret Window" is worth seeing. From the horror aspect, it's as valid as many another but not one that carves new ground for the genre.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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