A moral decision has far-reaching consequences for Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) when a mysterious visitor (Frank Langella) presents them with a curious box. Inside the box is a button. If they push the button, two things will happen. (1) They will receive a million dollars. (2) A stranger will die. Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly takes the fiendishly simple conundrum to the outer limits in this sprawling sci-fi mystery.
A wealthy stranger puts a poor couple in a get-rich-quick dilemma: take big cash knowing that it will result in the death of someone THEY DON'T KNOW or the offer will go to someone else... that THEY DON'T KNOW!
I Am Legend author Richard Matheson's 1970 short story Button, Button was a Twilight Zone episode waiting to happen.
And in 1985, happen it did. It was good too, but Matheson hated it. So shudder to think what he'd make of this dogs' dinner of an adaptation by Richard Kelly, a shambles rivalled only by the writer-director's own Southland Tales.
For starters, the happily married-with-a-kid Lewises aren't exactly on their uppers, judging by that flashy roadster in the driveway... of their lovely detached spread... in the leafiest corner of Richmond, Virginia.
What's more, when shady Arlington Steward (Langella) appears on the doorstep with his horribly disfigured face and his box of death, NASA scientist Arthur (Marsden) and philosophy lecturer Norma (Diaz) don't sweat the morality-testing dilemma for long.
To be fair, Arthur is a bit gutted at failing his astronaut's test and Norma has just been 'let go' by her employers. And she does feel a connection to Steward, what with him only having nothing east of his nose and she only having half a foot.
Besides, a million bucks is a million bucks, right? Heck, in 1976 that buys you a sixth of a Bionic Man!
The button is pushed. Knowing this won't spoil anybody's fun since (a) there wouldn't be much point to the film if it wasn't, and (b) there isn't any point to the film when it is.
From that moment on it's Invasion of the Probability Snatchers as Kelly drags everyone into a baffling conspiracy of quasi-religious gibberish, meaningless special effects, and mind control.
From the babysitter and local library users to National Security and Santa Claus, Steward's all-seeing network is so tight and invasive it'll make your nose bleed.
Unfortunately, poor Diaz and Marsden don't know where to turn as Kelly turns their initially intriguing guilt trip into an unconscionable mess.
Were it not for the frankly brilliant Langella and the mesmerising CG make-up work that leaves his molars exposed, this would be the worst case of filmmaking indulgence since Donnie Darko met a six-foot rabbit.
Even the production crew's recreation of the 1970s, superb though it is, is entirely unnecessary.
"What would you do?" asks the marketing campaign. Our advice? Keep a lid on it.