This is the story about a secret CIA program called the Mars project, that controls the destiny of the human race, and its effect on one family. Cameron Diaz plays the lead character of Norma Lewis. It is very early in the morning. She is asleep with her husband Arthur (played by James Marsden). The doorbell rings, waking them. Norma gets to the front door of the house, just in time to see a black car drive away. There is a package left on the doorstep. Arthur comes to see what is going on. Their son Walter (played by Sam Oz Stone) also wakes up. The three of them open the package to find a strange wooden box inside that has a single large red button on top under a glass globe that is locked in place. There is a card inside saying; Mr. Arlington Steward (played by Frank Langella) will call on them that afternoon precisely at 5:00 p.m.
Norma goes to school where she is a teacher that her son Walter also attends as a pupil. Arthur goes to his job at NASA where he is an engineer. Arthur learns at work that he does not qualify for the astronaut program because he did not pass the psychological testing portion. Norma finds out the school tuition-discount program, for children of teachers, no longer exists. She worries that they will no longer be able to afford the tuition for Walter to attend. Later that day, when she is home, Arlington arrives at 5:00 pm. Norma is startled when she first sees him, because half of his face has been burned off and is badly scarred. He puts her at ease, then comes inside to explain about the box and to make her an offer, which he sincerely says is legitimate. He tells her, if she pushes the button on the box she will get one million tax free dollars in cash, which he has in a briefcase that he shows her. He says there are a few rules, which are: 1) If she pushes the button someone, who she does not know will die; 2) She may not tell anyone about the offer except her husband; 3) He is not able to tell her anything more about his employers or any other details, and, 4) They have 24 hours to decide. He gives her a $100 bill from the briefcase. He tells her this is hers to keep no matter what she decides. He gives her a key and shows her how to open the box with it, then closes it again. He says he will return precisely the next day at 5:00 to retrieve the box.
When her husband comes home, she tells him about the mysterious man and the offer. Arthur takes the box apart but finds nothing inside. They debate whether they should push the button or not. At 4:45 p.m. just before the time will run out, Norma pushes the button. Arlington arrives fifteen minutes later, gives them the one million dollars, then says he does not know who will get the box next, but if they push the button he implies that one of either Walter, Norma, or Arthur will be the next to die. Arthur tries to give the money back, but it is too late. Arlington drives away, but Arthur takes down his car license number. Arthur finds outs the car is registered to the National Security Agency. Arthur also learns a woman died from a gunshot wound at exactly 4:45 p.m., the same moment that Norma pushed the button.
We see Arlington talking with his helpers. He explains to them, his employers are testing human beings to see if they should be kept or destroyed.
Norma's sister is getting married. When they go to the wedding, somebody kidnaps Walter. Arthur is forced to leave with a guy that has a gun. This is the man who shot his wife when Norma pushed the button. He tells Arthur he had to choose between his wife and his daughter. A man dressed as Santa blocks the road. When they stop, a truck hits them killing the driver. Arthur escapes the man with the gun.
Arthur and Norma come back home. Arlington is waiting for them. He makes them one final offer. He says Walter is upstairs, locked in the bathroom. He is now deaf and blind. Either they have the choice to live with their son handicapped or if Arthur kills his wife, their son's sight, and hearing will be restored. Norma begs Arthur to shoot her. She feels she deserves this because of the horrible thing she has done and she will never be able to live with herself for what has happened to her child because of what she did. Arthur tearfully agrees, says goodbye, and then shoots her, while she holds the gun to her chest helping him. Walter gets his sight and hearing back. The police arrive but instead of arresting Arthur, he is taken away by the men from NASA. They tell him he will be taken care of now. Arlington comes out of another house having delivered another million dollars to a different couple, and the cycle continues.
Best part of story, including ending:
It is hard to tell what part of the film is real and what part may be Arthur's hallucinations. It is interesting, but confusing because of this.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when Arthur meets the man who shot his, wife when Norma pushed the button, because the film starts to make some sense at that point.
Opinion about the main character:
Arthur should have simply stopped his stupid wife from taking a million dollar if anyone was going to die because of it. He could have just taken the key to the box away from her and if he wanted to protect her that is what he should have done. At the end he should have shot himself instead of her, because what happened was his fault also.