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(2002) (Richard Gere, Laura Linney) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Horror: A newspaper reporter finds himself inexplicably drawn to a small West Virginia town where he joins the residents in experiencing paranormal events, including the repeated sightings of a large, manlike flying creature known as the Mothman.
John Klein (RICHARD GERE) is a respected reporter for the Washington Post who's just bought a house with his lovely wife, Mary (DEBRA MESSING). On their way home, however, she suddenly spots a large creature flying at the windshield, swerves out of the way and crashes their car. Severely wounded, Mary dies a few days later in the hospital, but not before sketching images of what looks like a humanoid figure with wings, a sight she worried that John didn't see.

Two years later, John is on his way to Richmond, VA to interview the Governor when he unknowingly ends up far away in the small town of Point Pleasant, WVA along the Ohio River. When his car suddenly stops working, he sets out for help and ends up on the doorstep of Gordon Smallwood (WILL PATTON), a resident who greets him with a gun.

Gordon reports to local cop Connie Parker (LAURA LINNEY) that this is the third time in a row that John has shown up in the middle of the night asking for help, an allegation the reporter denies and can't believe. No charges are filed as Connie reports that everyone in town has been acting weird recently, including those who've reported spotting a large, humanoid like figure with wings and glowing red eyes.

That revelation obviously sparks John's interest, and he thus begins investigating the matter, interviewing various eyewitnesses to the phenomenon and those who've been experiencing bizarre premonitions. After several of Gordon's dreams of impending disaster turn out to be true and John begins receiving bizarre telephone calls from someone or something that seems to know everything about him and what he's doing, the reporter sets out for Chicago to find Alexander Leek (ALAN BATES), an author of works related to paranormal events.

Although Leek is initially reluctant to speak with John, he eventually recounts tales of the Mothman, a mysterious, supernatural figure seen throughout the ages before various disasters have occurred. He warns John that such sightings mean something bad is going to happen in Point Pleasant. Yet, the reporter returns anyway, intrigued both by the mystery of it all and various ambiguous comments made about Mary, hoping to solve the mystery before disaster strikes again.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Although she's never laid claims to possessing psychic powers or any such paranormal abilities, my mother used to have interesting premonitions, and they all seemed to occur when she was at the kitchen sink.

We never figured out if it was the water in Richmond, the sink model, or that the house stood on old Civil War battlefields, but she'd often be thinking of someone she'd hadn't spoken to in years when the phone would ring and it would be them. Then there was the time, again at that sink, when she suddenly thought of then current Egyptian president Nasser - someone that normally wouldn't cross her mind in the course of any given day - and then later learned that day that he had died.

Of course, the explanation could be that she's originally from West Virginia. After all, that's the state where the infamous "Mothman" sightings took place over a 13-month span in the mid 1960s. For those not familiar with the legend, many otherwise respectable residents of the small town of Point Pleasant repeatedly reported seeing a strange, human like figure with glowing red eyes and an immense wingspan.

As word spread about the creature, so did the sightings and soon the town was abuzz with the talk of UFOs, men in black and people experiencing odd premonitions. All of that culminated in December 1967 when the Silver Bridge inexplicably collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46 people. After that occurrence, the Mothman then disappeared, leading some to speculate that the creature either caused the tragedy, or was there to warn of the impending disaster.

Whatever the case, the story spawned a cottage industry of its own, including author John A. Keel's novel about all of that titled "The Mothman Prophecies." Now, the work has been brought to the silver screen in the film of the same name. Based on the work and the events that inspired it, the film feels like one of those creepy episodes of TV's long running, but now canceled "The X-Files."

Rather than FBI agents Mulder and Scully arriving as the believer and skeptic duo to investigate alleged paranormal events in small town American, however, this one focuses on a Washington Post reporter - credibly played by Richard Gere ("Dr. T & The Women," "Pretty Woman") - who becomes part of the story himself.

The result is a generally well told and occasionally quite creepy tale of things that go bump in the night - or rather make odd noises and spookily accurate observations on the phone - where one is never quite sure what's happening or might occur next.

The film certainly requires a rather large heaping dose of suspension of disbelief to work - after all, try explaining the basic plot to someone and watch them either giggle or look at you like you've lost your mind - but it does so rather well, thanks to the efforts of the cast and crew.

Although director Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road," "Going All the Way") unwisely uses all sorts of weird camera angles, edits and sounds in an effort to portray the confusion the protagonist and townsfolk are experiencing and the glimpses of the title figure, he, screenwriter Richard Hatem ("Under Siege 2: Dark Territory") and the rest of the crew do manage to create some creepy scenes and an effective, eerie aura to the proceedings.

They also wisely choose not to show the creature in its entirety or reveal the specific, explanatory particulars about "him" and the bizarre occurrences. The first would have required some sort of special effects that easily could have turned the whole thing rather quickly into pure camp, while the latter would inevitably be a letdown, as it probably couldn't satisfy the expectations stemming from the buildup.

The film does have similarities to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in that some sort of superior beings have apparently earmarked certain characters, who don't yet understand why or what is ultimately going to happen, to be conduits for their messages.

While such stories have the obligatory naysayer to provide some dramatic conflict - in Spielberg's film it was Teri Garr's character - the filmmakers here unfortunately have the two main characters alternate in assuming the role. With the accumulation of all the evidence and everything that transpires, one would imagine and expect Gere's reporter and the local cop played by Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me," "The House of Mirth") to believe most anything and everything that occurs.

Yet, that's not the case, and that's particularly apparent when John realizes that Connie has just received a visit from his wife who's been dead for two years. While he races out to find her, Connie doesn't buy into any of that for a minute, although she's had no problem believing an 8-foot tall Mothman telephones accurate predictions of doom to his human contacts.

The result of the characters occasionally flip-flopping in their belief and skepticism steals some of the film's thunder, undermines some of the spooky, "Oh my God, what's going to happen next?" aura that had been built up to that point, and certainly stymies the viewer from being swept away in paranoia along with the characters.

Had Linney's character simply been a natural born skeptic or perhaps was under the control of the Mothman to deny the plausibility of everything that was occurring, that would have been okay, but that's not the case. As a result, character motivations, along with the film's tone and momentum, don't always feel consistent.

None of those are terribly debilitating flaws, but the story would have come off better had the two characters worked as a unified team spiraling together into the unknown. In addition, while the filmmakers make effective use of some spooky phone calls and the later "I didn't call you" moments, it would have been fun had the film pushed such material to even creepier and more imaginative levels, where the viewer, like the characters, would never know what was real and what wasn't.

As the strung-out reporter, Gere is quite good as he's both inquisitive and shocked at what occurs. Although not quite as much fun as Marge Gunderson in "Fargo" and despite the occasionally uneven motivation, Linney also delivers a solid performance as the local cop who must deal with the bizarre occurrences.

Will Patton ("Gone in 60 Seconds," "Entrapment") is effective as the local resident who goes over the edge due to the strain of the repeated encounters and premonitions, while Debra Messing ("A Walk in the Clouds," TV's "Will & Grace") is good despite being removed - for the most part - rather early from the proceedings.

Despite the film's problems -- including its ending that's a bit predictable and perhaps drawn out too much - and that it doesn't contain the sort of knock your socks off ending that many viewers will probably be expecting, it's an effectively creepy little film that manages to work its way under your skin and deliver its share of goosebumps. "The Mothman Prophecies" thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 18, 2002 / Posted January 25, 2002

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