Dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

PAR­DON the pre­dictabil­ity but this feels like an an­nual col­umn. The one that asks: why are Robert De Niro and/or Al Pa­cino still slum­ming it?

In a week of thin DVD and down­load re­leases dom­i­nated by The Great Gatsby, why not re­turn to De Niro’s malaise?

Ac­tu­ally, it’s quite a month for De Niro’s straight-to-DVD ef­forts. In three weeks there is Killing Sea­son, in which he and John Tra­volta star as two Bos­nian war vet­er­ans go­ing at each other in a re­mote lo­cale. No, you didn’t miss that at the cin­ema.

And last month it was the limp en­sem­ble com­edy The Big Wed­ding. This week, De Niro presents him­self as a blind psy­chic, Si­mon Sil­ver, in the sus­pense drama Red Lights. The DVD cover uses a handy critic’s fawn that the film is ‘‘this year’s The Sixth Sense’’. More like this year’s The Last Air­ben­der.

Red Lights (M, Warner, 110min, $34.95) is not an en­tirely bad film and De Niro is sur­rounded by a crack­ing cast in­clud­ing Cil­lian Mur­phy, Sigour­ney Weaver, Toby Jones and El­iz­a­beth Olsen. But what prom­ises to be an in­ter­est­ing look at the de­bunk­ing of ap­par­ently mys­tic or para­nor­mal oc­cur­rences uses a num­ber of its own sen­sa­tion­al­ist and im­plau­si­ble de­vices to heighten its drama. It be­comes as aw­ful as the shonks it ini­tially de­rides.

Its writer and di­rec­tor, Ro­drigo Cortes, whose 2010 film Buried was a claus­tro­pho­bic, con­vinc­ing point of view film set in a cof­fin with Ryan Reynolds, ob­vi­ously wanted to in­sert bells and whis­tles, in­clud­ing fight scenes, car chases and ex­plo­sions, into a drama about psy­chics.

Red Lights gets right down to it. Two sci­en­tists, Mur­phy’s Tom and Weaver’s Mar­garet Mathe­son, ar­rive at a pur­port­edly haunted house and within four min­utes they’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in a seance, which they quickly de­bunk. Mathe­son has de­voted her life to ex­pos­ing psy­chic con artists, al­though there is one, De Niro’s Sil­ver, she not only hasn’t cracked but is spooked by.

That’s a nice set-up for two strong ac­tors and, to be fair, De Niro brings a cer­tain charisma to his re­strained mae­stro and Weaver gives Mar­garet a win­ning mix of levity and depth.

Un­for­tu­nately, the fo­cus on the two vet­er­ans wanes as the film builds and Mur­phy be­comes the pro­tag­o­nist in what so ob­vi­ously will be­come a ‘‘psy­chic show­down’’ or reck­on­ing.

You have to in­vest in the per­for­mances be­cause Cortes fails to pro­vide any­thing else as dis­tinct as a sense of place or point of view. The film has a silly score and lazy nar­ra­tive short­cuts such as us­ing news re­ports to raise the stakes of ev­ery sec­ond ac­tion. Ul­ti­mately, the ridicu­lous con­clu­sion kills any point you may have thought Cortes was hop­ing to make.

Of course, that is the ac­tor’s eter­nal is­sue: putting their per­for­mance in the hands of oth­ers. De Niro gets a pass here; it’s a small per­for­mance in a film that promised much more than it de­liv­ered.

For that, Cortes, or the producers who al­lowed such a silly end­ing, are to blame.

This week

(M) Road­show (274min, $39.95)

(PG) Hop­scotch (116min, $29.99)

Hop­scotch (934min, $49.95)


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