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'Mothman Prophecies, The'

Gere is convincing as the reporter tormented by mysterious events at Point Pleasant

Friday, January 25, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Some Mothman prophecies really do come true.

Richard Gere plays a Washington Post reporter seeking help from West Virginia police sergeant played by Luara Linney in "The Mothman Prophecies," opening today.

There are people who swear to this day that mass sightings of an 8-foot winged man with glowing red eyes preceded the deadly 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, W.Va.

"The Mothman Prophecies," a movie inspired by author John Keel's account of that event, fulfills a pledge made by the filmmakers when they began production one year ago in Pittsburgh. This will not be a monster movie, producer Richard S. Wright said. "We're looking at Mothman as a presence. We're not going for the full latex 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' version."

Indeed, when Mothman first "appears" in the movie, all anyone sees is a blur -- except, that is, for Mary Klein (Debra Messing), who is driving a car at the time. She slams on the brakes and wrecks the car. Later, in the hospital, she says to her husband, Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere), "You didn't see it, did you?" No, he didn't, although he was in the passenger seat at the time.

But two years later John, now a widower, begins his own strange encounters. His car stalls in the dead of night on a country road right out of the Twilight Zone. People have seen strange things there. He finds sketches someone has made of the Mothman that are eerily similar to those made by his wife after the accident. But this is in West Virginia, a place he's never been (although some will dispute that) and hundreds of miles from Washington.

John searches for answers. What is happening here? How might it relate to his wife's death? Before long, he seems to be going mad himself -- or so it would look, anywhere but here.

'The Mothman Prophecies'

RATING: PG-13 for terror, some sexuality and language.

STARRING: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, Will Patton.

DIRECTOR: Mark Pellington.

WEB SITE: www.spe.sony.


Additional 'Moth' coverage:

Laura Linney weathers the storm

Locations, myths and other 'Moth' balls

Extra is a flicker on the screen

Boy learns how to build character


Director Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road") tells the story in a visually compelling style that is complemented by the film's foreboding soundtrack. He uses light as a special effect. He changes focus in a way that makes it feel like something invisible is passing by. His scenes often dissolve into a digitized abstract. All of these methods suggest a shift in, or between, coexisting levels of reality.

But for all of its eerie ambience and its genuinely jolting veneer, "The Mothman Prophecies" fares less well in developing the emotional resonance necessary to connect Point Pleasant's spooky occurrences with John Klein's psychic pain.

The movie is telling two interconnected tales at once -- the weird events in Point Pleasant and Klein's journey of grief. But it concentrates so much on the first part that the second gets short shrift, when in fact the Mothman episodes should have illuminated his story.

Perhaps it's because the film only hints at a personal relationship between Klein and Point Pleasant police sergeant Connie Parker (Laura Linney). They spend more and more time together, and you sense after a while that they're not just working on the case. But the movie doesn't go any further than that.

Richard Hatem's screenplay at one point had envisioned Connie having a young son and the role was cast during the shoot in Pittsburgh. The character apparently wound up on the cutting-room floor. I wonder if other elements of her story were cut that might have heightened the emotional impact of the story.

Don't blame Gere, however. He is sympathetic and believable as a man tormented both by his personal tragedy and by the inexplicable events that tear at the fabric of his reporter's natural skepticism. Will Patton also wins our compassion as the local resident most tortured by the unnatural things he sees and hears. Messing is surprisingly effective in her short but crucial role. The city of Kittanning also fills in admirably for Point Pleasant.

"The Mothman Prophecies" does a proper job of spooking us. But while its heart is in the right place, it is never as strong as the film's look.

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