Cameron Diaz in The BoxDirector Richard Kelly's latest dark sci-fi movie, The Box, based on a short story by prolific sci-fi writer Richard Metheson, is in cinemas today and stars James Marsden and Cameron Diaz.

But here's the all-important question: Is The Box as inspired as Kelly's 2001 breakout cult classic, Donnie Darko or will it be as poorly received as his last movie, 2006's apocalyptic Southland Tales?

Time to find out... span style="font-weight: bold;">Cameron Diaz in The BoxThe Box (12A)

Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Director: Richard Kelly
Film Length: 115 minutes

What's it all about? If someone offered you $1million to push a button that would kill someone you didn't know, somewhere in the world, would you do it? That's the ingenious premise that drives the latest effort from Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), based on a short story by Richard Matheson that was previously adapted into a Twilight Zone episode. In 1976, NASA scientist Arthur (James Marsden) and schoolteacher Norma (Cameron Diaz) receive a visit from a mysterious, disfigured man (Frank Langella), who presents them with this get-rich-quick opportunity and a nasty moral dilemma.

They push the button, right? Indeed. Otherwise, there would be no movie. And it's what happens next that is the problem, which is a shame, as the set-up is full of intrigue, and Marsden – often seen in second-banana roles in films such as X-Men and Superman Returns – indicates he's more than capable of stepping up to the demands of a leading man.

So what goes wrong? Remember how things go a little crazy in the final chunk of Donnie Darko? Well, imagine that, but on a much bigger scale. Basically, The Box goes bonkers sci-fi, and Kelly's highly earnest treatment is at odds with subject matter that isn't half as deep or clever as he imagines it to be. It's also apt to be confusing, especially if your disengagement creates lapses in concentration.

Has Richard Kelly lost the plot, then? On the evidence so far, Kelly is at his best when he is being challenged by strong creative collaborators. His most enjoyable film is the producer's cut of Donnie Darko, released with great commercial success in the UK. His subsequent director's cut unhelpfully amplifies all the film's indulgent aspects. His follow-up, the little-seen Southland Tales, was a risible mess, revealing a director intoxicated by the instant acclaim for his first feature. And now The Box, in which Kelly also serves as one of the producers. Bad idea – he is the worst judge of his own material. It's frustrating, as the man evidently has talent. Let's hope that next time he finds collaborators that can help him shape that talent into a film that is coherent and satisfying.

Rating: 2 out of 10
categories Reviews