Despite being an inflated, polished-to-an-anonymous-shine Disney deal, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense has its nervous thumb on something, a sharp regard for miserable preadolescent disconnectedness, and for how everyday life can ripple with fear. Too bad it ends up being a play date in the Ghost neighborhood. Writer-director Shyamalan’s previous efforts, Praying With Anger and Wide Awake, were forgettable misfires, but there were signs of melancholy life. The Sixth Sense is Shyamalan’s big spec-script shot in the dark, and in the summer scheme of things his movie falls somewhere between The Haunting‘s digital slavering and Blair Witch‘s spine-juicing nighttime. With few F/X to speak of (the characters’ icy breath is CGI’d, which must be cheaper than refrigerating the set à la The Exorcist), Shyamalan shows restraint and some screenwriting wisdom detailing the life of a Philadelphia nine-year-old (Haley Joel
Osment) who appears to be emotionally disturbed, but is in fact terrorized
by the presence of dead spirits day and night. We see only a few genuinely chilling ghosts; mostly, the film feels huddled in apprehension.
Bruce Willis, as the boy’s psychologist, is simply the impassive venture capital that got Shyamalan’s movie made (has a star ever been so competent, and yet so dull?)—its real resource is Osment. His pitifully scrunched brow, choked silences, and curdled voice, suggesting tortures so dreadful parents will tie themselves in knots, are the movie’s best special effect.
Shyamalan achieves his coldest
moments when looking at something, mostly Osment, dead on, but too often the film gets lost in overlit opulence and the soundtrack going boo. But complain all you want about Willis’s posturing and the rabbit-in-the-hat ending (predicated as it is on a vast plothole), the film is still a rarity, a studio horror movie
focused on a child’s traumatic stress.
There is, relatively, precious little at stake in The Thomas Crown Affair, a sealskin-slick, cat-and-mouse romance-caper trifle with a hard-on for wealth that feels downright Trumpian. The groovy 1968 Steve McQueen–Faye Dunaway original is notable only for its tedium, and if John McTiernan’s new run-through provokes fewer occasions to examine the theater ceiling, credit Rene Russo, who at a saucy, frequently nude 45 (she often looks it, and looks mahvelous) becomes something like a Mary Baker Eddy for aging movie divas. She’s a high-living, know-everything insurance dick simultaneously investigating and being
seduced by the suave playboy-thief (Pierce Brosnan, who’s wooden, but nice wood, like teak), and whenever the cutesy story or the litany of billionaire toys and pads threaten to knock you out, Russo smiles, disrobes, and laughs like a mule. As Chubsy Ubsy of Our Gang used to say, What ho! Bring on the dancing girls!
Meanwhile, back at the underwater lab full of genetically smartened mako sharks, we can’t rely on much of anything to keep us awake. Deep Blue Sea is one of those hellishly predictable digital-monster gauntlets that makes you pity the actors, particularly Saffron Burrows (this is her first Hollywood lead) and LL Cool J, who, in the tradition of Mantan Moreland, plays a terrified chef given to chugging cooking wine and talking to God in moments of panic. Of course, the sharks are bigger (unexplained), smarter (explained via anti-Alzheimer’s drug research), and ridiculously faster (animation wonks will be boys) than real makos. Go to the aquarium instead.