Who's In It: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
The Basics: It's 1976 and a NASA employee and his wife are hurting for money. Enter Frank Langella, his face half burned off, holding a box with a big red button on top. Push the button and they get a million bucks, with the catch that someone they don't know will have to die as a consequence. What happens next lives in the same neighborhood as Donnie Darko's domestic disturbances but involves a level of insanity that approaches director Richard Kelly's most recent movie Southland Tales (minus Sarah Michelle Gellar singing about teen horniness).
What's The Deal: Random creepy details pile up like obsessive thoughts in a burning heap of paranoia, prosthetic feet, time/space-breaching water-pods and supernatural WTF-ness. And that's what gives this movie its power. After so many thrillers with by-the-numbers plot twists and see-it-coming endings, it's refreshing when a mainstream Hollywood film takes an old Twilight Zone episode, extends it, hurls its marital plot-line against a Sophie's Choice-like brick wall, and then throws it all off the deep end of the kookoo-bananas pool while mixing in more than a little alien superpower suggestion and wrapping it in Christmas-themed (and meaningfully so, sort of) package with a weird bow. Total head-scratch entertainment.
Who Wins: Frank Langella. First of all he looks amazing with that gruesome, digital half-head, his face-guts on the outside. He's dapper and terrifying and his every move is deliberate, smooth and ice-cold. He cocks his hat just right, too.
Did You Not Pay Attention In English Lit Class? Not To Worry: There's a major Jean-Paul Sartre No Exit analog going on but you don't even have to know who he was because the movie explains it all in a Cliff's Notes way. That it hammers home that metaphoric stuff really heavily several times throughout the film will make impatient viewers think, "Yes! Okay! I get it!" but repetition is how you reach people sometimes. Meanwhile, sorry teachers, but wacky sci-fi thrillers featuring Cameron Diaz with a goofy southern accent can now do your job for you.
Who's Running The Show At Warner Bros. Anyway? I don't really pay attention to this kind of thing. I don't read Variety. I don't know who's in charge at big studios. But I want to thank whoever decided to make this the fall season of big movies from idiosyncratic directors like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Jonze and Richard Kelly. How much money they all wind up making is not my problem. I'm just glad that Whiteout wasn't all you guys had up your sleeve for the rest of the year.