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thebox2I had a couple of questions after seeing “The Box,” a new existential thriller starring Cameron Diaz.

First: What the hell was that?

Second: Is it possible for a once promising director to completely forget how to make a movie?

Here’s the scoop. Diaz and James Marsden play Norma and Arthur Lewis. They’re a regular family; he wants to be an astronaut, she’s a teacher specializing in existential literature who lost four toes in a horrible X-Ray incident. One day, early in the morning, a mysterious box is delivered to their door. Inside the box is a device that looks like the “Deal or No Deal” buzzer along with a note that reads “Mr. Steward will call on you at 5 pm.” At precisely five the doorbell rings and the bringer of the box, Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) is at the door. He’s a nattily dressed charmer, but there’s something strange about him. For starters he has a facial disfigurement that makes Harvey “Two-Face” Dent look like a Fabio. But there’s more. He calmly explains that she has twenty-four hours to make a decision. If she presses the button she’ll be given one million tax free dollars. There’s a hitch though. Someone, somewhere will die. If she doesn’t press the button he’ll return in one day, collect the box and that will be that. From that point on it is a story of buttons, bloody noses and prosthetic feet. Oh yeah, it’s also about choices and consequences.

“The Box” wants to be a deep multi-layered horror fantasy about the human condition, the afterlife and fate but bites off more than it can chew. The button test is meant to reveal not only the essence of human nature but apparently, the very heart of what it is to be human, or something like that. I’m not exactly sure because by the time we got to that point in the story I was already thinking about what I wanted for lunch the next day. No thrills, no chills, just bored sighs.

Cameron Diaz’s performance made me long for the days when she danced in her underwear in the first reel of all of her movies and Frank Langella is clearly slumming it for a paycheque here but “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly is the real problem. It’s looking more and more like “Darko,” the stylish sci fi mystery that rightfully earned Kelly a cult following, was a fluke. “The Box” is so painfully dull, so silly and overwrought it’s as if there was no director.

Like the movie suggests, there are consequences for every action. I wonder what the consequences will be for making a movie as bad as “The Box.”

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