Richard Kelly hasn’t reclaimed his cult status here. This is no Donnie Darko, though it’s infinitely more appealing than his misbegotten, cryptic, apocalyptic Southland Tales. Occasional glimpses of genius do occur here: A Santa Claus rings a bell in the middle of an empty midnight street or a giant wind tunnel, suggesting the sci-fi workings of cinema guru of David Lynch. Kelly fills the screen with square and circle motifs, and in case you miss their significance, Frank Langella spells it out for you-we live in boxes, ride around in boxes, spend our days watching a box, and end up lying in a box for eternity.
Occasionally witty, The Box is ultimately full of junk. A remake of a 1985 Richard Matheson Twilight Zone script, Kelly’s Box slowly builds thematic half-ideas about paranoia and choice, then bridges into an almost laughable Martian psychic story so strained you can only hope it’s some kind of profound metaphor. And then he squibs out and the events dribble into a meaningless debacle. The number of loose ends here far exceeds palpability.
If you must see it, be prepared for the worst, but also get ready to enjoy the chemistry between Cameron Diaz and the surprisingly spooked and spooky James Marsden, whose earlier work in movies like Enchanted and X-Men had a comic-book edge. Here he plays with a real, anguished sincerity. Too bad Richard Kelly can’t control the same authentic burn for his own very promising film.