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2002 - PG-13 - 107 Mins.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Review by: David Trier
Alien movies, like mafia movies, are such their own genre that they are often limited when it comes to originality. If nobody gets "wacked" in a nice suit, a mafia movie hasn't done its job. But the mafia does exist (or did at any rate) and is bound by the realities that define it. Yes, aliens also exist, or at least there's no reason to think they don't. But because their definition is slightly less restrictive, it is all the more glaring when yet another movie portrays them as insensitive green terrorists.

Ex-reverend Graham Hess (Mad Max Gibson) has lost his faith, poor fellow. Well, let's be reasonable. The god he prayed to all his life did crush his wife in a brutal car accident. Helping him maintain his depression are his sympathetic brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), his obsessive compulsive daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) and his creepy but well-read son Morgan (Rory Culkin). Life is pretty mundane in their nice big farmhouse surrounded by fields of corn. When the ghost of a famous baseball player- sorry, wrong movie... When the Hesses discover some huge and intricate crop circles, they are less than pleased to learn that they've been appearing all over the planet and signify the upcoming arrival of hostile extra-terrestrials. The international media, treating the alien arrival with the integrity and vehemence of a school shooting or an abducted white toddler, lead Hess to re-examine his estranged faith and gosh darn hope the aliens don't eat his brain.

M. Late-Afternoon Shyamalan impressed most of us with The Sixth Sense and subsequently disappointed most of us with Unbreakable. Here he seems to downright condescend to us with a preachy derivative treatise on why you should be religious even in the face of reality. But Signs isn't completely without merit. Where M. Early-Evening Shyamalan excels is in his ability to con an audience into staring at a door knob for a really long time. We want something to jump out and scare us and we know all we have to do is stare intently at some mundane piece of the set for a few solid minutes. Not a steep price to pay for some great movie moments. And where the script completely fails in terms of science fiction (more on this later), it has a few nice touches when it comes to family relations.

Although the dialogue is relentlessly sappy, each member of the cast delivers a solid performance. Mel Gibson, brings an appealing sensitivity to a character that makes very little sense most of the time. Phoenix, although he always looks like he's been crying or is about to cry, still has his nice cinematic presence to offer. Cherry Jones is believable as the local police officer. And M. Just-About-Tea-Time Shyamalan is actually quite impressive in a supporting role. Although, the fact that we know it's him, coupled by the fact that he's the only non-caucasian in the film, is a little distracting.

People who disagree with this review will inevitably go on and on about how Signs isn't really about aliens. Well, too bad. I was sold a ticket to a movie about aliens and that's what I expected to see. OK, I didn't actually pay for my ticket, but that's not the point. What we were all sold was a clever sci-fi story with some brilliant new theory about crop circles with some clever M. 4:20 Shyamalan twist in the end. But the entire issue of crop circles is abandoned before the film is even half over. Instead what we end up with is a priest doing an awful lot of crying with his family while very few poorly armed aliens half-heartedly try to break into a farmhouse.

But I've certainly seen worse movies…
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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