Aesthetically Speaking

Sci-fi film turns on moral dilemma

Signs is something of a tip off, before you even order it, that quality fare is in the offing. Just check out the lead names involved. Producer, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan devised the ingenious supernatural thriller… Signs is something of a tip off, before you even order it, that quality fare is in the offing. Just check out the lead names involved. Producer, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan devised the ingenious supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense. Marquee name Mel Gibson, quiet as it’s kept, is much more than just another pretty hunk. Ditto supporting star Joaquim Phoenix, who was brilliant opposite Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

How far wrong can you go with this one? Not very: Shyamalan, Gibson and Phoenix are all aces. A clergyman whose faith has failed (Gibson) is raising his son and daughter on a farm and keeping over his brother’s head (Phoenix). Enter hostile aliens from outer space. Sounds hokey, but Shyamalan artfully scripts and tightly directs a strong cast in what turns out to be a sci-fi saga that leans less on special effects and more the moral dilemma of self-confrontation. It’s top shelf all the way, including James Newton Howard’s sparse, but nonetheless very effective score.

The same can scarcely be said for Femme Fatale. Perennial hack director Brian De Palma pairs Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Rominj-Stamos to inflict roughly two hours of convoluted disjointed tripe. A jewel thief (Romijn-Stamos) double-crosses her partners, marries a high-profile diplomat and must hide her past from a snooping freelance photographer (Banderas). It’s a go-nowhere, nothing-happens waste of time.

So is The Ring, a boring ghost story which comes courtesy of a no-name director and cast, none of whom have advanced their careers by being associated with this pointless yarn about a videotape that predicts the death of anyone who watches it. The movie features are available on Time Warner Cable’s Movies On Demand service.

June 23, 2003
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