114 – Panic Room

Any movie that builds an entire plotline around one room in one house is just begging for trouble. I don’t care if that one room’s outfitted like Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants; if you limit your setting, you’re asking for yawns. But that’s what Panic Room does. Sure, there’s a lot of action – such as it is – outside the room – but even what isn’t contained within the ultrathick walls of the safe place is contained within the relatively small house itself (or maybe just the ultrathick walls of the screenwriter’s mind).

The gist of the story is that Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), who’s recently been divorced from her husband, a very wealthy pharmaceutical dude, is buying this upscale brownstone in Manhattan for her and her generic kid (although not a cute generic kid; looks like they ran out of “cute” at Child Actors R Us and had to settle for not-so-cute-but-oh-so-spunky). Even though the fee is more than she’s willing to pay and even though it’s a little weird looking, our plucky heroine throws caution to the wind and buys the place. And immediately moves in – which, you homeowners know, happens with all the frequency of a loan getting approved quickly.

The place has this complicated security system – it doesn’t look all that large, frankly, but the system separates the house into zones, all “armed” at night. Sounds safe, right? When the house was being shown to Meg, she noticed that the master bedroom was smaller than it should be – surprise! There’s a hidden room! Oh, what fun! What’s it for, you ask? It’s explained to Meg that if someone breaks into the house, she can get to the room and call the police from the handy-dandy not-connected-to-the-main-line phone; even if the main line’s cut, you see, she can still call Officer Bob.

Now, I don’t know about you folks, if, while being shown a new place, I am told that the house has an awesome “safe room” in case someone breaks in – I’m getting the hell out of there. Wouldn’t that tell even the biggest dunce that there’s a crime problem in the area? I mean look – there’s a friggin’ security system! They’re saying that a) people will break in, b) the security system won’t do squat, c) you can’t call the cops from the main line because they’ll show up next week, so yay! We have this neato safe room for you.

So to begin with, the premise is mired in utter stupidity. In fact, I sit here dumbfounded by its stupidity.

Naturally, the first night Meg and her daughter Sarah are sleeping in the house, someone breaks in. Three burglars are there to recover something from the panic room’s vault, but of course they don’t expect anyone to be in the house. Okay, common mistake. One of them, Burnham (Forrest Whitaker), almost decides to call off the thing, since people are in there and he’s got this thing against hurting people, and all that. But don’t worry, he’s soon talked out of it by Junior (Jared Leto), the nominal head of this happy bunch, which also includes the unexpected Raoul (Dwight Yoakam – didn’t he used to have a music career, or something?).

Whoosh! Meg and the youngster rush to the panic room, where they proceed to panic.

A lot of contrivances abound. For one thing, Meg’s claustrophobic, so she has problems dealing. For another, Sarah is diabetic, a fact that plays an unfortunate major role in the movie. Can Meg save her child before the bad guys get to her? Oh, can she?

You know, just as an aside, I remember when Forrest Whitaker was just starting out in show biz. Remember Good Morning, Vietnam? That boy made some great career moves – Smoke was another. He’s a great supporting-role kinda guy. It’s just a crying shame this movie depends on him so heavily. He’s the only one – yes, only one – who turns in even a decent performance. And since he’s a bad guy, I should have been rooting against him, right? Ha! Guess again, Dr. Watson. I was hoping Burnham would escape.

Jodie Foster, on the other hand, gives one of the most constipated performances of a lifetime. Did she check out her contract before agreeing to this crap? This woman’s won OSCARS, for crying out loud! Geez, they couldn’t get Ann Archer to do this role? Or Christine Lahti? Or Kathleen Turner? Or anyone else whose career has slowed down a bit?

Eleven people, including me, were in the theater when I watched this movie. Eleven! It’s a new movie, too! And because there were 11, I tried my darndest not to laugh out loud at the moronic dialog, inept direction, and incompetent camerawork. Really. I tried hard. But failed. I mean, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, much as the actors onscreen were embarrassing themselves.

Oh, and to add more insult to the whole shebang, the director is the same guy who brought the creative Fight Club and Seven to the big screen. Talk about slumming! Did he owe someone a lot of money?

This turkey is rated unwatchable. The movie was somehow allowed to rise from somewhere in the murky bowels of Mother Earth to fester like a cold sore in the mouth of the American audience.

Panic Room: 1

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