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SIGNS

Mel Gibson, nobler and cuddlier than ever, plays a former minister who switched to a regular collar after his wifeís accidental death caused him to lose his faith. Together with his two young children and his baseball-player brother (Joaquin Phoenix), Mel boards himself up in his Pennsylvania farmhouse to stave off an inexplicable large-scale attack by aliens.

In the context of todayís overblown Hollywood cinema, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan probably expects that a slow pace, precious compositions, sub-Lynch attempts at weird humor, and a solemn abstention from Schwarzeneggerian special effects will qualify this Big Whuh of a crop-circle movie for big-time points. Signs is thus filled with overcareful touches that register as either pretentious or slightly ridiculous (the endless creak of a screen door; Cherry Jonesís performance as a chatty county cop). In the end, all the winks and tics with which Shyamalan signals that heís looked at a Fantagraphics book or seen a real movie (perhaps one by Larry Buchanan, director of Zontar, the Thing from Venus) only make this filmís calculated tearjerking more offensive. (120 minutes)

BY CHRIS FUJIWARA

Issue Date: August 1 - 8, 2002
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