I did not have much fun watching The Dark Tower.
Adapted from a several-book saga by Stephen King, this 95-minute movie is so incoherent and ugly you would think David Ayer directed it. Poor Idris Elba plays every scene like he just found out his agent couldn’t get him off the film, and whenever Matthew McConaughey villainously drawled “my magicks,” I experienced a level of embarrassment comparable to “Jerry Seinfeld curves Kesha” on the cringe Richter scale.
However, there is one moment in The Dark Tower that made me gasp, laugh, and applaud. It’s when Idris Elba is menaced by a smiley face.
This scene comes … I don’t know, maybe halfway through the movie? (The Dark Tower is so short, you’re practically halfway through the movie once it starts.) Gunslinger Roland (played by Elba) and his young ward Jake (Tom Taylor) have just used a dimensional portal to return to Manhattan from Roland’s ugly-ass home world. Worried for the safety of his family, Jake takes Roland back to his apartment, where a calamitous event has occurred offscreen. All that remains there is a message that McConaughey’s villain has scrawled on the wall … and a smiley face.
Now, on its own, this is kind of a dumb moment. Sometimes, cheerful things can be contextualized to seem creepy — take Pennywise the Clown in King’s It, for example. That vibe is probably what they were going for with the smiley face in The Dark Tower, but like most things about The Dark Tower, it falls flat.
So why was I still so delighted? Because Idris Elba coming face-to-face with this menacing emoticon reminded me of a hilariously similar moment from 2009’s Obsessed.
Do you remember Obsessed? God, it’s wonderful. Filmed with a verve completely lacking from The Dark Tower, this trash-classic stars Elba as a happily married businessman who dotes on his wife, Beyoncé. Trouble arrives in the form of Ali Larter, an office temp whose crush on Elba reaches dangerous levels of stalking and surprise lingerie reveals.
I saw The Dark Tower a few days ago and can barely recall important details from it, but ask me to expound on Obsessed and I could offer you entire thesis papers on its use of Christine Lahti and the scene where an outraged Beyoncé throws a dinner plate and shouts, “Your prophylactics!” Still, in a movie packed with memorable moments, there is one that’s simply a cut above. Obsessed obsessives will already know what scene I’m talking about, but for the rest of you, please press play and enjoy this moment where Elba gets a threatening office email from Larter. It’s a gem.
God bless everyone involved with that.
Now, was the smiley face in The Dark Tower intended to be an homage to one of Elba’s finest cinematic moments? Almost certainly not, and yet I must admit it still won me over. There’s just something hilarious about watching Elba, a six-foot-three hunk of implacable masculinity, twice meet his match in a simple smiley face. (How this man was left out of The Emoji Movie is beyond me.) If any of his future movies would like to add a moment where Idris Elba stares down an ominous emoticon, I will happily chip in for the postproduction expense.
So congratulations, The Dark Tower. You’ll never get to make that supplemental TV show you’ve been promising and you’ve likely poisoned the well on any future adaptations of this Stephen King work for at least two decades, but for one brief moment, you reminded us of Obsessed. For that, at least, we salute you.