STARRING: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, Patricia Kalember, Jose L. Rodriguez

2002, 120 Minutes, Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Signs is a difficult movie to review. It is practically impossible to discuss it without discussing its ending. However, despite being an Internet-based reviewer, I try to never give away the endings of any movies. However, never has there been a movie so defined by its ending, as is the case with Signs.

No, it isn't a "surprise" ending of the sort that Signs director M. Night Shyamalan made a temporary fad with his excellent Sixth Sense thriller a few years ago. Its ending changes Signs from a competently made you jump thriller into what will strike you as either profound or pretentious. Until its last ten minutes or so, Signs (like The Others) scares one with half-glimpsed and heard threats. Mel Gibson (in an understated role, none of his tough guy facial tics here) plays an ex-priest whose family is threatened (he's Episcopalian in case you wondered) by what seems to be either alien invaders or crop circle pranksters.

The ending however changes everything: it goes from Night of the Living Dead to Touched by an Angel in ten minutes flat. Also, even if you're a Christian I suspect that an argument could be made that the metaphysics in Signs are suspect.

SPOILER ALERT! (Hint: it implies that God will do things like have your wife die sadistically in a terrible road accident so that she can provide a hint as to how to deal with an alien resembling one of the imps from the Doom computer game that is threatening your family. The hint? Hit the bugger with a baseball bat! Duh! SPOILER ENDS!)

According to Signs there are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe that life is filled with, well, signs and miracles. That there are no coincidences. Then there is the second group: the people who believe that life consist of coincidences. Put this way: there are those who believe that when your gold fish dies it is either because God caused it to happen and is part of an admittedly obscure plan by Him (Her?). Others believe that your gold fish died because, well, that's what gold fish do - they die before you grow too emotionally attached to them.

Yet another way of putting it is that there are two groups of people in this world: audiences who will buy the contrived ending of Signs, and those who won't. This reviewer falls among the latter. Until its ending, Signs Is a well-acted and understated (though derivative) affair that borrows liberally from the likes of Independence Day, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.

Unfortunately the stupidity of the ending ruins whatever has gone before. A pity, since after the retro 1970s style comic book adventure of Unbreakable M. Night Shyamalan was to my mind one of the most promising film-makers around. Here, he however seems to have simply runs out of ideas and pushes audience credulity.



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