Mel Gibson, Rory Culkin, ...

(Signs: Frank Masi)



Genre: Mystery and Thriller, Sci-fi and Fantasy; Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, Rory Culkin, Cherry Jones, Michael Showalter, M. Night Shyamalan; Director: M. Night Shyamalan; Author: M. Night Shyamalan; Release Date Wide: 08/02/2002; Runtime (in minutes): 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

Is it possible that there are no coincidences?” Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) postulates in Signs, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest big-ticket fusion of ordinary and extraordinary. The question haunts all of the filmmaker’s brooding blockbusters, from ”The Sixth Sense”’s ashen portrait of a society sleepwalking in ghostly decline to ”Unbreakable”’s muddled man-of-steel metaphor for midlife crisis.

Now comes an alien-invasion movie that continues Shyamalan’s study in destiny, faith, and, perhaps unintentionally, genre-flick preposterousness. Sinister crop circles appear in Hess’ cornfield, spelling trouble for both the world at large (of which little is seen, heightening the Hitchcockian claustrophobia) and Hess, a former reverend whose wife’s death has driven him from the pulpit and strained relations with his children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin).

Shyamalan is at his best staging terse microdramas with the emotional weight of tragic opera. (In a scene where the family uses a baby monitor to intercept alien chatter, he manages a tense intimacy that recalls the early Spielberg.) But he’s at his worst when wowed by his own fearful symmetry: ”Signs”’ ”twists” are as deliberate as they are ludicrous. Because, after all, there are no coincidences…in movies. And that’s no revelation.

Originally posted January 10 2003 — 12:00 AM EST

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