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Will 'The Happening' win M. Night Shyamalan more Razzie Awards?

June 11, 2008 | 10:02 am

The first reviews for "The Happening" are bad enough that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan may well need to make room on his mantle for more Razzie Awards. Two years ago, his failed fantasy, "Lady in the Water" won him M_night_shyamalan two Razzies — worst director and worst supporting actor. Luckily for him, "Basic Instinct 2" nabbed two other prizes he was also nommed for: worst picture and screenplay.

How far he had fallen from those heady days of 1999 when "The Sixth Sense" — the second-highest-grossing picture of the year — was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture plus writing and directing nods for Shyamalan. While "American Beauty" won those three Oscars, it was Shyamalan who walked away with a sweetheart deal to make more Oscar hopefuls for Disney.

However, while his next three movies -– "Unbreakable," "Signs" and "The Village" -– made money, they met with increasing indifference, then outright scorn from the critics, scoring 62, 59, and 44 respectively at Meta Critic. Breaking with Buena Vista, Shyamalan made his labor of love, "Lady in the Water," for Warners. For the critics, this film was merely a labor to watch and it scored only 36 at Meta Critic.

The early reviews for "The Happening," starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, are not much better. In Variety, Justin Chang writes, "Shyamalan's story — about a married couple and a small child being driven farther and farther from civilization by a fatal airborne threat — covers territory already over-tilled by countless disaster epics and zombie movies, offering little in the way of suspense, visceral kicks or narrative vitality to warrant the retread. The helmer's gift has always been for conjuring suspense from silences, shadows and enclosed spaces, a talent that gets little workout here."

For Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter, "the central menace -- an airborne neurotoxin that causes mass suicides in the northeastern U.S. -- doesn't pan out as any kind of Friday night entertainment. The movie seems more like a '50s science fiction film of extreme paranoia or an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' that even at a swiftly paced 90 minutes feels padded. The movie's own logic and logistics are never clear. If the toxins are in the wind, where is everyone rushing to? Why aren't our heroes taking shelter in airless buildings or breaking into pharmacies for an antidote to suicidal tendencies? The ecological idea of Planet Earth striking back at humankind might bring a smile to Al Gore, but in terms of cinematic intrigue and nail-biting tension, it's just not happening."

(Buena Vista, 20th Century Fox)