Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Happening.”
The Movie: “The Happening”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A science teacher, his wife and a young girl struggle to survive a plague that causes those infected to commit suicide.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 18 percent
Brown: After a week of hot submarine action, it was time to put the JOE-DOWN on edge. And to do that, we needed the master of suspense of the early 2000s: M. Night Shyamalan. The man who brought us consecutive solid flicks in “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs.”
Sure, the next two, “The Village” and “Lady in the Water” were not well received, but his next movie would be good, right?
We got “The Happening” and… my god, man. My god.
Now I heard time and time again that this movie was hot garbage but I never knew if it was objectively bad or bad because Shyamalan has shown he can do better.
It’s definitely the former. I have never before cheered for a gust of wind so hard in my life. Does that make sense? No, and when we explain it later, it still won’t!
While I talk to a classroom about bees, tell me your initial thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: I (REDACTED) hated this movie. I was seething from start to end, which was over three different days because I could only handle a half-hour of this kind of rage in my life. The last day, my rental had expired, so I had to rent this thing again just to finish it.
Brown: That’s downright tragic.
Froemming: Oh trust me, my nostrils were almost as flared as Wahlberg’s in this movie.
I have never seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie before, and unless we want to go down this crappy path again, I will not bother with his films. Like his other films, this one too has a twist: Tricking me into watching this horseshit movie.
Brown, while I internally debate which movie has a worse religious overtone, this or “God’s Not Dead” starring pervert and Minnesota native Kevin Sorbo, why don’t you start this off.
Brown: We begin at Central Park, where people are having pointless conversations with cups of coffee that I’m sure people got from hipster coffee shops that Jacob Wohl frequents.
Then all of a sudden everything is just… strange. We had credits with clouds moving fast, there’s eerie music as the wind blows and everyone just freezes. And then a pointless conversation ends when a woman takes a stick out of her hair and stabs herself in the neck.
As someone who has anxiety in crowds and parties, I think this is a sensible way to end mindless conversation.
It seems like New York City is suddenly becoming a nature documentary on lemmings as a bunch of construction workers just fall off the top of a building.
Naturally, as a sarcastic ass, this was my first thought.
Froemming: What’s wrong with Homer Simpson’s favorite song?
Brown: This song is way better than this movie. Low bar, I know.
Froemming: Now we are brought to school where the most unbelievable aspect of this movie occurs: Mark Wahlberg is a science teacher. A science teacher who talks about bees.
NOT THE BEES!
Froemming: It seems like the bees are vanishing, and what way to get to the bottom of it than by asking bored teenagers who would rather be anywhere than in the classroom with a teacher with a thick Boston accent?
Brown: I also put in my notes that there is no person that is less convincing as a science teacher than Mark Wahlberg. Frankly, I never learned his character’s name, either. Because I was as bored as the teenagers in his class.
Basically, while the kids are making guesses at what is happening to the bees, Wahlberg/Shyamalan make their thesis on the entire movie: Sometimes nature just does stuff.
That’s when it dawned on me: This is a high-budget “Birdemic.” I know it’s more of Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” but “The Happening” is WAYYYYY more toward “Birdemic.”
Furthermore, this isn’t even the best movie about bees made during this 2007/2008 range.
Froemming: I’d rather have watched Jerry Seinfeld as a bee than Mark Wahlberg as a science teacher.
Brown: “Bee Movie” is now on my list for this summer.
Froemming: Anyway, Cameron from “Ferris Buller’s Day Off” is the principal in this movie, which takes place in Philadelphia at this point, not Illinois where he and his good-time buddy destroyed his father’s cherished car. Cameron has all the teachers meet and we see that mass suicide is happening, which kinda makes the audience an avatar here because I wanted to die watching this movie.
Nobody knows what is happening, or why. Is it a terrorist attack? Chemical attack? Those would certainly be interesting premises, much better than what we get in this dumpster fire of a move: Plants are the cause.
Brown, you should feel bad for making us sit through this.
Brown: I think we both put this note down: I’d rather a gust of wind make me suicidal than finish this movie. And I remember writing that 20 minutes in.
We should also mention that Marky Mark’s best friend in this is
Luigi Mario John Leguizamo, who gives Marky Mark the idea of getting out of Philadelphia and going out to Harrisburg to wait out whatever the hell is happening.
Before they do this, Marky Mark needs to get his wife Alma, played by Manic Pixie Dream Girl Zooey Deschanel. Only, Zooey has none of the charm or personality or anything that is appealing. I’m not a fan of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope but man, her role in this is literal robot, to the point where her character trait is she hates showing emotion (which she repeats several times in her dialogue).
This may as well be her soundtrack every time she’s on screen.
Froemming: She’s as Alma as the nose on Plain’s face.
Yes, and Alma has a secret: Some guy named Joey is calling her. You’d think this would be a plot point, since we see her phone ring and she talks to this guy and it is heated and whatnot.
Nope. She had after work dinner with him, and didn’t tell Marky Mark. Nothing of this matters, none of this matters.
Brown: She had tiramisu with the guy. I guess in Philly that’s slang for putting his (REDACTED) inside her? I think that’s what Shyamalan would have us think.
Froemming: Is tiramisu like a foot massage in “Pulp Fiction?”
Brown: I mean, if the tiramisu was better than sex, maybe? Look, maybe Philly has some exquisite Italian restaurants that Billy Joel can sing about. While I’m on this soapbox: Billy, the name is Brenda. Not Brender. Get it right!
Froemming: Are we sure it isn’t Brahbrah?
Brown: Billy Joel is the whitest white people music.
So Marky Mark, Alma, Julian (Luigi Mario) and his daughter Jess head to the train station. Julian’s wife is headed to Princeton instead. Whatever, she’s dead, you know if from Jump Street.
Quick rewind: Did you notice when they had Alma talking on the phone at her and Marky Mark’s place that they had a bee statue on the coffee table? Shyamalan is not a good enough writer to write a nuanced movie with an environmentalism theme. I mean, he cast Zooey Deschanel and told her not to emote AS A CHARACTER TRAIT in film, a visual medium where emotion is paramount!
There’s only one thing that really emotes in this movie and that’s Marky Mark’s mood ring. Yeah, there’s a mood ring in this movie because why the (REDACTED) not?!
Froemming: For a science teacher, he really goes off on the “unexplained” and “odd science” that is not really a part of science. He talks to a child about a mood ring like it is science. Did he get his teaching degree from Texas, where the Bible is all the science they need?
Brown: I feel like he went to Hollywood Upstairs Medical College and was cum laude with Dr. Nick.
Froemming: We learn this is only happening in the East Coast from news reports in this movie, thus becoming Ted Cruz’s wet dream. And everyone is fleeing, trying to find a place that is safe from whatever is driving all these East Coast elites to off themselves in colorful ways.
And Julian wants to find his dead wife, so he hops a ride with, and I kid you not because you never see his face, Dante Hicks from “Clerks.” I watched this with that Amazon X-Ray going on, and sure enough, Brian O’Halloran is the guy driving this truck that we only see standing in the background. And I am sure his response to the epidemic is:
Brown: I also saw that Shyamalan is the voice of Joey in this movie. I get it, dude, you want to be Hitchcock.
When Julian hitches a ride, it ends in horror when because of a tear in the Jeep’s roof is enough for suicidal air (?!?!) gets into the car and motivates Dante to drive into a tree like he found out his girlfriend had 37… you know what, I’m gonna stop there.
Froemming: In a row?
Brown: I said I’m stopping, Froemming!
Julian survives, only to sit in the middle of the street and slit his wrist with broken glass.
Now stuck with Jess, because the last thing this unloving couple needs is a child to pull at our heartstrings, Marky Mark and Alma head out with a couple that runs a greenhouse.
Great, the last thing we needed in this movie was hippies.
Froemming: Hippies who talk to plants.
Brown: Also, the hippie dude was wayyyy into hot dogs, which pays off in no way and is just weird. It’s definitely a phallic obsession, like with Mac and pens in “Always Sunny.”
Froemming: What do you have against hot dogs? Why do you hate America?
Now, the crew, their hippies friends and all try to find a safe area. A soldier they come across says it is not safe where he came from and whatnot. All these people fleeing band together to find refuge, only to end up dead because, apparently, large groups of people are causing the plants to release something in the air that will cause them to just kill themselves? When this happens, people just go all blank-eyed and do it, like they are hypnotized or whomever wrote this is a blathering moron. I’m betting on the latter.
In a smaller group, now with two teenage boys because why the hell not, Marky Mark needs to find shelter and food for all these people who seem to hate him just as much as I do.
And in this rural area in the North East, they just go around knocking on doors during an epidemic. Did they not think they would come across some violent, crazed survivalists? They are everywhere, as “Deliverance” showed us.
Movies have taught me to not trust anyone.
Brown: I personally would never trust anyone that tries to earn my trust by singing The Doobie Brothers. But sure enough, that’s what Marky Mark does in this movie.
And what happens? The teenagers get killed via shotgun blasts. Apparently the guys inside this house enjoyed the Doobies better when Michael McDonald was in the band.
Froemming: Michael McDonald sings like he has 37…
Brown: Way to show some restraint there, Froemming.
I personally assume that house was occupied by Proud Boys who were not about to let some bicultural group anywhere near their property and take their beard oil or something.
So after one isolated house resulted in two people dying, Marky Mark, Alma and Jess go to another isolated house because for a science teacher, Marky Mark hasn’t learned (REDACTED).
This time, there’s an old woman living off the grid to greet him and begrudgingly takes the trio in. With how short-tempered and paranoid she is, my thought is she spends her days sitting in a corner booth at a Culver’s and reads anti-Muslim material online.
While Marky Mark and Alma discuss their plans, the lady gets all crazy thinking that the three will kill her. And it’s here you see the level of enthusiasm that Marky Mark brings to this role.
That moment hurts my brain. I need a palette cleanser to move on.
Froemming: His “What? No!” is as believable as Happy Gilmore’s when he starts playing “Endless Love” on a date.
Well, the next morning Marky Mark just barges into Mrs. Jones’ bedroom, only to find the world’s creepiest doll there instead. He then sees the old woman outside, probably walking off a hate-rage from reading about Somalians in St. Cloud, Minn., just walking around minding their own business Then she starts acting stranger, because the wind blowing tells us danger is afoot. I wonder if the toxic wind is from those creatine farts The Rock had from “Pain & Gain.”
Well, she ends up smashing her face through a window, getting glass all shoved into her eye and face, which made me slightly chuckle at. Then Marky Mark hears the voices of Alma and the child and follows them. Turns out, she and the kid are in what looks like the outhouse, with the child playing with gross toilet water and whatnot.
This movie sucks. Nothing about it was fun or entertaining. Everyone involved should feel bad for putting this out into the world.
Brown: It was a shed that the old woman mentions that slave runners would hide in that has a pipe built in to listen in on the house. How convenient!
Froemming: Fancy term for an outhouse. It was gross in there, and I think they lady made up the slave-running story so they wouldn’t call her a racist when she smacked the daughter’s hand when she tried to grab a cookie.
Brown: So Alma and Jess are in the shed and Marky Mark is in the house and apparently the toxin can now infect individual people.
Separated by the wind (I guess), Marky Mark and Alma, who have been in a very loveless and unconvincing relationship throughout this movie, start talking about their relationship. Suddenly overcome with love (somehow), Marky Mark decided he’d rather die with his wife than live alone without her. So he makes the trek outside.
Froemming: Cue the end song and the credits!
Brown: And for all the BS we put up with in this movie, the catharsis of Marky Mark going suicidal would have made this journey worth it.
Apparently nature’s bloodlust has been satisfied and Marky Mark, Alma and Jess are reunited and no one else is dying in New England. This is literally the ending of “Birdemic” when the birds decide they’re done and just fly away.
Damnit, Froemming. After slogging through almost 90 minutes of this, we deserved something nice. And we didn’t get it.
Cut to six months later, they adopted Julian’s daughter, Alma is pregnant and all is well with the world.
Except for those cowards in France. The evil plant virus is now attacking the war-mongering, backward-thinking Parisians that didn’t help us in the very successful Operation Iraqi Liberation!
Brown: You know, this journey would have been worth it if it was revealed that this was a dark comedy and this was the song that played over the ending credits.
Alas, that wasn’t the case. This was a waste of time.
I don’t even want to be witty here. Let’s just get to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: *Shakes head somberly* This is up there with the worst films we’ve reviewed on the JOE-DOWN.
Froemming: No. This was one of the worst movies we have watched. It is up there with “SLC Punk 2” and “Soul Man.”