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If you like your thrillers without the thrill, Vacancy is for you. Ditto to those who immediately think "suspense" when they see Luke Wilson.


When a bickering couple is driving on some out-of-the-way interstate late at night in their BMW, they're just begging for trouble—at least in the movies. In Vacancy, that couple consists of Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and David Fox (Luke Wilson). It doesn't take long for their Beemer to break down on them—in fact, barely enough time for us to learn a few exposition tidbits: She has spells of Prozac-induced nightmares; he is bothered by those spells; their son's dead and their marriage has all but dissolved. Once the car finally dies (and we're sufficiently up to speed on their volatile relationship), Amy and David decide that they have no choice but to pack it in for the night. And so they do, at the proverbial cockroach-infested, dingy nearby motel. Upon checking in with the sleep-deprived manager (Frank Whaley), they're a little wary of the place, but that only gets worse when they get to the room and hear banging noises on the door and walls. The final hint that something's awry comes when David watches a videotape of someone being beaten in a room that looks just like theirs. Hey, wait a minute…it IS their room!


Luke Wilson displayed surprising agility in '05's The Family Stone, but apart from that role he has become more or less a slacker icon. With that in mind and his trademark sloooow, stoner-resembling Texas drawl, Wilson is really not (vocally) fit for suspense. The only less logical choice to play the protagonist in a thriller might be his brother Owen. In Vacancy, you can't help but chuckle and reminisce upon Wilson's cinematic past while watching him try, in vain, to go all heroic hubby on us. One might also wonder what Beckinsale, gorgeous and famous enough by now to carry her own movie, is doing playing a distant second fiddle in what should've been a B-movie. But after seeing Vacancy, you realize all she had to do for her paycheck was look pretty, scream a few damsel-in-distress screams and hide her British accent. Simple enough—and she makes it seem that ho-hum, too. But then there's veteran actor Whaley. I don't wanna say it's one of the worst performances of all time—mostly because it's just a supporting role—but it's one of those in which it seems like he's acting in a different movie. He'll genuinely give you a case of the giggles during his most intense scenes. Frank Whaley? A villain? Come on, there had to have been some cheaper, scarier actors out there.


Vacancy should be an inspiration to all those struggling screenwriters out there. It says, in essence, if you're at an artistic crossroads, you need only dumb your script down for it to get sold. Of course, rookie writer Mark L. Smith is crafty, not dumb, for curtailing the amount of intelligence in Vacancy so that everything would be crystal clear to scare-hungry audiences. And acclaimed Hungarian director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll), making his American debut, does nothing to stand in his way. Together, they give the characters—who are fleshed out with traits like antidepressant addiction and short patience—the ol' Murphy's Law treatment: Anything that can go wrong will. That's fine and expected to set things in motion, but when that gimmick strings the plot along—very tenuously—it's downright ridiculous and only appreciated by viewers who go in determined to like a movie. It's really too bad because Vacancy's premise is a great starting point for a contemporary psychological thriller. But you'll know the director wanted to steer clear of depth when, early on, you see the tapes inexplicably just sitting in Amy and David's room. "Why?" you'll ask. Because it sets up the rest of the story, that's why!

Bottom Line rated this film 1/2 star.