The Trigger Effect is a rarity: a suspense movie that’s genuinely suspenseful, and a film in which the outcome is always in doubt. As written and directed by David Koepp, The Trigger Effect starts from a simple ideaplacing an upper-middle-class couple in the middle of a prolonged blackout in Los Angelesand builds slowly to a series of shocking, violent scenarios. The film is often heavy-handed and contrived, and it always seems on the verge of making some pseudo-meaningful comment on the base nature of mankind, but Koepp is too much the entertainer to let his commentary overwhelm the movie. He’s too in love with the jolt to give in to the polemic.
The Trigger Effect stars Kyle MacLachlan as Matthew, a successful young man with a pretty wife named Annie (Elizabeth Shue), a healthy baby daughter, and a troublesome working-class buddy named Joe (Dermot Mulroney) who may have the hots for Matt’s young bride. The tensions in the threesome’s relationship are stretched tighter by a sudden, unexplained power outagean outage that also exacerbates the tensions in society at large (which have been adeptly demonstrated by Koepp in a hooky opening sequence that shows the chain of rudeness and racial conflict at a mall movie theater before the blackout). Driven by desperation and a lack of information about when power is to be restored, Matt, Annie, and Joe buy a shotgun, pack up a car, and head east, where they encounter several people who are just as panicky and just as armed.
The attentive viewer doesn’t have to dig far to see what Koepp is up to here: He wants to show how close to barbarism we all are, and how one small incident can send us over an edge we’re already leaning toward. To make his point, he stacks his deck, showing us characters whose morality and basic politeness is already more than a little suspect before the lights go out. As social comment, The Trigger Effect is none too pointed.
Luckily though, the viewer doesn’t have to respond to the message to enjoy the movie. The premise may be skewed, but for a thriller, it’s no more preposterous than The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or Silent Fall. And though the characters may be overly jerky, once we accept their jerkiness, there’s not a line of dialogue or a bullet fired that doesn’t ring true. Koepp carefully stages a social breakdown, but he’s a skillful enough writer to make it seem just as believable as it needs to be.
As a result, whenever anyone draws a gun in The Trigger Effect and squares off against another edgy neighbor or motorist, we’re on the edge of our seats, because we really don’t know what will happen. Koepp has shaken the thriller convention so that it seems far from conventional. We’re as in the dark as the characters in the movie, and it’s a surprisingly tense place to be.
Not the One
It only takes about 10 minutes of writer-director Ed Burns’ new romantic comedy She’s the One before the audience gets cheated for the first time. Burns stars as New York City cab driver Mick Fitzpatrick, who picks up a pretty young woman and offers to drive her to New Orleans. In the very next scene, they’ve returned to the city as man and wife. We spend no time at all with the young couple; we don’t even get to know the woman, played by Maxine Bahns. Still, we’re expected not only to accept the quickie marriage, we’re also expected to care about its fate. Not a chance.
She’s the One continues in this undernourished vein; it’s the most frustratingly underwritten, under-realized movie to hit the screen since last year’s Mad Love. The TV show Seinfeld may claim to be about nothing, but it at least has interesting, funny characters (and it has real plots, no matter what its creators say). She’s the One really is about nothing. It has no story, no worthwhile characters, and no pleasing dialogue to speak of. Ed Burns has set out to make a charming comic meditation on men’s inability to relate to women, but having approached the podium, he doesn’t have anything of note to say.
In addition to Burns, She’s the One stars Mike McGlone as Francis Fitzpatrick, Mick’s younger brother. Francis’ story is even more contrived than his sibling’s: A high-powered Wall Street type who’s having an affair with Mick’s ex-fiancee (Cameron Diaz), he no longer has the time nor the desire to have sex with his beautiful wife, played by Friends star Jennifer Anniston. The film also features John Mahoney as the Fitzpatrick brothers’ fathera beer-drinking ex-fireman who berates his sons and ignores his wife. Having introduced all its main characters, She’s the One proceeds to reintroduce them in scene after pointless scene. For all the talking in the movie, we never really get to know or understand any of the players.
Let me give you some idea of how this movie works: Burns walks into a room where McGlone is already present. The two insult each other. They speak a number of sentences that begin, “As I understand it,” so that they can reiterate some plot point that has already been explained a hundred times (e.g., “As I understand it, you’re sleeping with my ex-fiancee”). They then make a succession of wisecracks that could hardly be considered jokes (e.g., referring to a character first as “the old man,” then “the geriatric,” then “diaper boy”). Then they say some shocking word like “vibrator” or “queer”not as part of a joke, but as a joke unto itself, like a 5-year-old boy saying “underwear.” Then they state what’s going to happen in the next scene. (When Burns says he’s going to take a shower, you expect the next scene to be him in the shower, saying, “I’m taking a shower.”)
The only truly redeeming aspect of She’s the One is its soundtrack, by Tom Petty. But the singer’s concise melodies and straightforward lyrics make the rest of the film seem even more shrill. Everything good that Petty adds is promptly subtracted by McGlone, whose spastic hand gestures and deliberate speech are like a ghastly hybrid of William Shatner and Matthew Perry.
McGlone alone doesn’t sink this film, however. The real problem is that Burns has nothing to offer the audience but effortand not much of that. After the surprise success of his first film, last year’s The Brothers McMullen, Burns spoke about wanting to be the Irish-American Woody Allen, but the more he talked, the more obvious it became that he hadn’t really given much thought to his “cinematic vision.” The Brothers McMullen was partly a lark and partly a career moveBurns made the movie because he had the money and the inclination, if not the burning need or the talent. And as good-naturedly ramshackle as The Brothers McMullen is, it stretches the quality and material of a half-hour sitcom to a feature length film. It bears no special flair or personal stamp.
With She’s the One, Burns’ slackness catches up to him. He’s a pleasing and original young actor and a fair director, but he can’t write a lick. (His next film is said to be a drama about a New York City career woman in crisisyipes!) With The Brothers McMullen, he was able to trade on goodwill and a handful of good jokes, but now he’s run out of both. She’s the One wouldn’t even make it as a half-hour sitcom; it’s more like an endless series of jeans commercials.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…