Mel Keeps the Faith Whatever Crops Up; Signs (PG): Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.** Frailty (PG): Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Matt O'Leary. Directed by Bill Paxton. Cert PG. * A Walk to Remember (PG): Starring Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah. Directed by Adam Shankman. *
Byline: Lew Baxter
THIS week's crop of Hollywood efforts is indicative of a rather disturbing mood that seems to be sweeping America, presumably as a reaction to the horrors of September 11 last year, which involve a lather of lachrymose love elements and a bagful of redemption-style tales that smack of a moral fundamentalism that is desperately seeking solutions and salvation.
It kicks off with Mel GIbson's inexplicable involvement in a story about a vicar whose wife is killed in a road accident. He is the patriarchal priest-cum-farmer Graham Hess who packs in God after his wife's demise, leaving his vulnerable two kids - Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin as the doeeyed pair - pondering their shattered lives.
His brother Merrill, a pasty-faced performance from Joaquin Phoenix, gets in on the act and all begins to fall apart when a series of 500ft wide crop circles start appearing amidst other mysterious happenings.
It's all dismissed as the work of pranksters but director Shyamalan - whose Sixth Sense at least had pace - has also gifted us his pen in Signs. The actual nub of the witless plot is that the world is being invaded by aggressive aliens.
In essence this is a canter into a raw Christianity. Will there be ``someone'' to turn up and save mankind or are we here on our own.
This is philosophy and theology for five-year-olds but even they might get the hint that we are perhaps meandering here into a justification of defending one's home and hearth against...whoever.
Yet the American media have launched into eulogies that equate it to a second coming with even the usually staid Wall Street Journal howling that its simply wonderful and Good Morning America trumpeting that it's a dazzling, Twilight Zone thriller. It's no such thing.
The aliens are giving us humans a good pasting - while Mel and his tribe barricade themselves in their farmhouse home - until suddenly the tables are turned and they are sent packing.
It seems a bunch of people in the Middle East had defeated them with a simple formula: splash 'em with water...in the desert. Well, naturally.
Then it's the turn of religion to get back in on the act.
Mel's lad - Rory Culkin - has asthma but this actually saves his life when a wicked alien spurts poison gas into his face. The kid's in the midst of a bad asthmatic attack, but because his lungs are closed he doesn't absorb the poison.
With tears flowing Mel dons his collar ready to get back on the scene with heaven. Ahem.
In Frailty we lurch into even darker redemption territory in a film directed by and starring Bill Paxton.
It is an unwholesome baggage that disturbs the psyche because it has actually been made at all. The premise is that a family loses mom to cancer and dad is left to hold the bonds together - is this universal collusion one wonders? …