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The new Spielberg? No, 'Signs' is just silly

Friday, August 02, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.../Do this, don't do that/Can't you read the sign?"
-- "Signs," Five Man Electrical Band

I read it all too well.


RATING: PG-13 for some frightening moments

STARRING: Players: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan

WEB SITE: bventertainment



Mel Gibson is an ex-priest -- Episcopalian, actually, which is a little different from real Catholic: They're allowed to have kids, and he has two. His wife's recent death has shattered his faith. But never mind. What he has now is more worrisome than either his live kids or his dead wife: a cornfield containing weird circles of crushed crop -- the same mysterious pattern, right here in Bucks County, Pa., as that which is currently showing up in India, Africa and elsewhere.

Forty-five minutes later, this long, slow, minimally fascinating build-up yields a thesis to the effect that either there is no God or that His miraculous force will rescue us.

But from what? The movie?

No, aliens. Much like Spielberg's in "E.T." -- only not as cute.

Director M. Night Shyamalan has seen "E.T.," but the Rev. Mel and his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) evidently haven't. They're still back in "Night of the Living Dead" mode, under the impression that what high-tech can't thwart, maybe 2-by-4s and nails can: Shutter up the doors and windows, take the kids down to the cellar, and entertain them with touching Lamaze birth stories while those pug-ugly aliens are breaking in.


"Sixth Sense" director Shyamalan got $5 million to write and an additional $7.5 million to direct this nonsense. "The Next Spielberg," Newsweek's current cover dubs him, by way of prelude to Jeff Giles' absurdly gushing exercise in adulation inside, rivaling advance hype of the Edsel or Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate." Remember Cimino, director of "The Deer Hunter"? Re-read Stephen Bach's brilliant "Final Cut" (the single most revealing Hollywood book ever written) on how a one-shot wonder destroyed United Artists.

Since $12 mill or $13 mill is chicken feed these days, Shyamalan's silly "Signs" won't bring down a studio. The outrage is not his or his film's ineptitude, it's the media complicity -- exemplified by the Newsweek extravaganza: Having committed itself to Giles' eight-page valentine, Newsweek's editors felt obligated to give "Signs" a theoretically objective review by David Ansen -- a fairly decent critic in general, who shames himself by giving this thing his toadying, conflict-of-interest approval in the same issue.

Gibson is duller than a used Bic razor. Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin as the kids are OK (how many of these Culkins are there?). I shouldn't tell you this, but I will: When we finally get a glimpse of the dreaded alien, he turns out to be a kind of anorexic C-3PO -- pathetically allergic to water.

Otherwise, no "Signs" of terrestrial or extraterrestrial life.

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