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When Bad Advertising Happens to Good Movies: "The Invisible," "Next," and "In the Land of Women" PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 02 May 2007 02:12

Margarita Leviera and Justin Chatwin in The InvisibleTHE INVISIBLE

Funny story. I caught director David S. Goyer's The Invisible on Friday afternoon, and later that evening, watched a TV show I'd taped a couple of days prior but hadn't yet seen. During a commercial break, there was a preview for The Invisible. Amazingly, it was the first trailer for the film I'd landed upon, which gave me the unusual opportunity to judge a preview based on its movie, rather than the other way around. And now that I have seen the teaser for the film - a 15-second scare-flick pastiche of screams, slash-edits, and a threatening shriek of "You're dead!!!" - I feel compelled to ask: Did The Invisible's marketing wizards not see the movie, or did they indeed see it, not have a clue about how to market it, and purposely create the most misleading trailer imaginable?

Although The Invisible is being sold as a run-of-the-mill teen horror film with a modicum of class - its poster touts the vague credit "from the producers of The Sixth Sense and the co-writer of Batman Begins" - the movie, based on a Swedish work titled Den Osynlige, is a good deal more complex than that. It's not without its problems, and star Justin Chatwin (he was Tom Cruise's son in War of the Worlds) is a rather milquetoast lead, but The Invisible is easily one of the year's more thoughtful and imaginative entertainments, and something I never thought I'd see, or even want to: a moody, teenage meditation on loneliness in the guise of a thriller. (Can't imagine why it would be difficult to sell that concept to kids.)

The film hits odd, intriguing tones right off the bat. After a measured, deliberately alienating dream sequence that ends in our hero's suicide, The Invisible takes us to high school, where Nick Powell (Chatwin) has a run-in with the school extortionist, Annie (Margarita Leviera), a diminutive tough in a hooded sweatshirt. Both Nick and Annie are, in their own ways, invisible; Nick's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has considered him an afterthought since her husband's death, and Annie is ignored by her unresponsive father and stepmother. Yet after Annie, having committed an impulsive robbery, is picked up by the cops and led to believe that Nick turned her in, the young man becomes literally invisible: Annie and her cronies savagely beat him, drop him in a sewage drain, and leave him for dead.

Enter the Sixth Sense-y plotline, as a dazed Nick emerges from the crime site, and soon realizes that although no one else can see him, he's not actually dead - yet. From that point on, The Invisible concerns Nick's attempts to get someone, anyone, to find his body before he perishes; it's a beat-the-clock drama with the protagonist in the position of having to save his own life.

Yet the terrific surprise of The Invisible lies in how little he can actually do. Unlike, say, Patrick Swayze in Ghost, Nick can't alert people to his presence in any kind of physical way (unless you count his ability to be seen by birds, which does come in handy). It's up to his attackers themselves, especially the increasingly tormented Annie, to do the right thing, which allows Goyer to explore fascinating themes of teenage alienation, insularity, and guilt within the scope of a traditional genre film. The director stages the movie's rare thrill sequences with finesse - two perfectly timed surprise attacks made the audience jump - but he's even better at sustaining the film's disquieting mood of hopelessness, and working with cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, he reveals a real talent for imagery: the arrhythmic blinking of a bird's eye just before it perishes; the slow, suggestive dribbling of blood on a hospital floor.

Despite his passive facial expressions being offset by a startlingly alert gaze - he looks like a baby-faced Johnny Depp - Chatwin doesn't bring much to the film beyond an appropriately haunted demeanor. Leviera, though, is really something. Instead of indulging in the expected tough-gal posturing, she creates a memorably edgy and painfully lonely character; Annie's criminal activities, as Leviera's soulful performance makes clear, are the only things keeping her sadness at bay. And she's frequently matched by a remarkably strong supporting cast; Harden, Alex O'Loughlin, and Chris Marquette all have scenes in which their depths of emotion take you - and take them - by surprise.

Nothing about The Invisible's execution suggests a run-of-the-mill teen horror film, and I actually feel rather bad for the target demographic that lines up for the movie and, based on the advertising, expects it to be one. (I wasn't the least bit surprised to run across an Internet Movie Database posting that began, "This must be the worst movie I've seen in ages.") Yet director Goyer and screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum have fashioned a unique and, of all things, heartfelt work; its deceptive trailers are no doubt the reason a lot of people won't like The Invisible, and ironically enough, the reason some of us will like it a lot.

 

Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel in NextNEXT

In Lee Tamahori's senseless, contrived, and excruciatingly dull action thriller Next, Nicolas Cage plays a two-bit Vegas magician with very limited powers of precognition: He has the ability to see all of two minutes into the future (unless he's hanging out with Jessica Biel, when he's allowed to see a little further ahead than that). Julianne Moore plays an FBI agent who believes that the prestidigitator is the only person capable of thwarting a planned nuclear attack by Soviet terrorists. And over the course of 95 intolerable minutes, Moore and Cage sullenly wander through this moronic pseudo-sci-fi looking like the second- and third-most miserable people on the planet. The most miserable? That'd be me.

 

Adam Brody and Kristen Stewart in In the Land of WomenIN THE LAND OF WOMEN

With asinine, overstuffed offerings such as Next continually sold as the blockbuster du jour, it becomes increasingly easy to be satisfied with smaller pleasures at the cineplex - a graceful line of dialogue, a committed reading, a passing moment of human connection. Writer/director Jonathan Kasdan's In the Land of Women is nothing but small pleasures. Sort of like Garden State for the Wolverine State, Kasdan's lighthearted drama concerns an LA screenwriter (Adam Brody) who moves to Michigan to care for his ailing grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and attracts the attentions of a curious, mildly hostile teenage girl (Kristen Stewart) and her mother (Meg Ryan), recently diagnosed with breast cancer. And that's about it. But that incomplete synopsis doesn't hint at the confident ease with which Kasdan has his characters reach out to one another, withdraw, and reach back, or at how attentive the movie is to momentary flashes of happiness, or at how the simplest of looks or gestures reveal worlds of character insight. (Ryan, here, gives one of her finest, most emotionally direct performances yet.) Very little happens in In the Land of Women, but at least it happens honestly, and Adam Brody is truly fantastic in it - so much so that you don't even mind his playing an impossibly charming, funny, self-deprecating sort whom everyone falls instantly in love with. The bastard.


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