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Mothman Prophecies, The

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/11/07 10:15:15

"Dull, pretentious 'X-Files' retread."
1 stars (Total Crap)

Going into 'The Mothman Prophecies,' I was in the mood for a solid, haunting, intelligent supernatural thriller. Coming out, I was still in the mood for one.

The movie is based on a supposedly true-life case -- a spectral creature dubbed the Mothman, who has bothered a lot of people, many in West Virginia, where this story unfolds. I'm reminded of Bill Hicks' observation that aliens and other uncanny events seem to visit only rural areas; Hicks concluded that aliens were probably intergalactic hillbillies, looking for a place to "kick back and whittle some."

Or, in the case of the Mothman, to spook people with predictions of impending disaster. For his other trick, he appears to people and messes with their perception of time. This explains why Richard Gere, as Washington Post reporter John Klein, makes a car trip from D.C. to West Virginia in just under two hours when it should take six, though it doesn't explain why the movie ends in just under two hours when it feels like six. Klein's wife (Debra Messing) fell prey to the Mothman in an apparent encounter with him/it two years prior; this is happy news for Gere, who gets to indulge the fantasy that he can express emotion onscreen. Klein's car breaks down, and he finds himself on the doorstep of a gun-toting Will Patton, who freaks out because he thinks Klein has visited his home on the previous two nights. Is it the Mothman, or just a case of an overworked West Virginian falling asleep in front of a Richard Gere marathon on Cinemax?

Sanity prevails in the person of Laura Linney, who plays a cop and gets to wear one of those Marge Gunderson winter hats with the badge on the front. Linney is sufficient reason to sit through anything, including this, and her concerned tenderness towards the rattled Klein reads as a superior actor's carrying Gere in their scenes together. Klein gets baffling late-night calls from the Mothman, who talks in one of those heavily sub-woofed spooky-guy voices (why don't supernatural forces ever sound like Fran Drescher?) and predicts things like plane crashes and earthquakes; he leaves it to the audience to predict everything else in the movie.

Which we do. I'm more than a little mystified by the "Directed by Mark Pellington" credit on The Mothman Prophecies, since he gave us perhaps 1999's most underrated thriller, Arlington Road. This director, it may so happen, is only as good as the script he's shooting; on his previous outing he had a twisty, shapely little number by Ehren Kruger, but here he's stuck with a staggeringly uneventful plot by Richard Hatem (adapting a book by John A. Keel). Eventually, the movie irreversibly becomes the default second X-Files feature film, with Gere as the fervent believer Mulder and Linney as the skeptical Scully. Klein slouches around, talking to various people who have seen the Mothman; he stops short of the next logical step, conducting an extensive and fruitless search for someone who hasn't seen the Mothman.

The last reel or so is an embarrassment -- or entertainment at long last, depending on how you look at it. Klein receives word that his dead wife will call him at noon the next day, so of course when he's waiting by the phone at 11:55, who should call but Laura Linney with an invitation to drop by for Christmas Eve. Klein gets all stressed out because he might miss his noon call -- hasn't the man heard of Call Waiting? There follows an elaborate destruction number on a bridge, staged by Pellington (like everything else herein) in skittish fragments. What should be a tragic event, slowed down so that we feel the full horror of it, is shot and edited to make the most of the fake-looking collapsing bridge parts.

'The Mothman Prophecies' is the most overdirected movie I've seen in a while; Pellington does everything stylish and clever -- which is to say, pretentious -- he never did in 'Arlington Road,' perhaps because there he had a story he trusted. Let's hope the next one doesn't require him to work so hard, and so unsuccessfully, to rescue it.

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