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2002, dir. M. Night Shyalaman
106 min. Rated PG-13
Starring: The Passion of Mel Gibson, That Leaf guy again, Yet another Culkin brother, cheesy looking aliens.

Review by Noel Wood

M. Night Shyalaman movies will forever be ruined for me. But I can blame nobody for this other than the man himself. Because, as I mentioned earlier in my VILLAGE review, people go to his films just to see the "twist". Having seen THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE already, I was quite familiar with this quirk of the director, and watching THE VILLAGE just sealed it for me.

At that point, I had not seen SIGNS, so I went out and rented it the next day. Now, I know what you're thinking. After I skewered THE VILLAGE so badly, why would I want to see yet another of his films? Well, I figured it would be the responsible thing to do before passing judgment on the latest Shyamalan film, for starters. But on top of that, I was told that it was the best of his films at that point, and I was kind of curious to see some aliens anyway.

So what I was left with was thoroughly disappointing. And I tried, I really did. After four films, I have come to the conclusion that I am no fan of M. Night, and this film just sealed the deal. But don't get me wrong -- this was not the flaming turd that was THE VILLAGE. This film actually tells a compelling story all the way up to the big momentous ending. It's just in this case, the ending fell flat for me.

For this I blame the filmmaker. I guess me seeing the films out of order was my own fault, but I was expecting a "twist" like the other movies had. SIGNS doesn't have a real twist; it just has a moment of catharsis. So you have to look at this film from my point of view for a second. For once in my life, I was trying to figure out the twist. I was looking for any sort of clue that would turn the story completely upside-down. I was looking for the most ludicrous revelation to pop in to my head, so I could roll my eyes yet again at some ridiculous and contrived surprise to happen.

But it never did.

I guess to catch you up, I'll give a brief synopsis of the film for the three or four people who haven't seen it. This film has been recommended to me by every person who ever walked the earth; I figure the number who missed it are few and far between, but here goes anyway. Mel Gibson is a recently widowed former clergyman who has lost his faith in God, so he makes a movie about Christ. Oh wait, wrong story. His son has asthma and no social skills, his daughter has weird obsessive compulsive quirks regarding drinking water, and his brother is a loser minor-league baseball player. Anyway, one day he finds his cornfields full of holes. Of course, these crop circles start showing up all over the globe, so people brace themselves for an alien attack. His son reads alien books like any other social misfit would, and so the family starts wearing tinfoil hats and boarding their doors shut. Aliens attack. Mel flashes back to his wife's tragic final moments. Climax. The end.

Yeah, believe it or not, that's nearly two hours worth of plot right there. But meanwhile, we're learning about our characters through their interactions and reactions. This film wasn't starting off too bad, and all it needed now is that trademark M. Night Shyamalan ending to ice the cake, right? So I'm looking for it. Maybe the kids are really aliens! I mean, after all, we have yet to see what his wife looked like. Or, maybe all of this is actually occurring on another planet besides Earth! There hasn't exactly been a lot of interaction with the outside world.

So what's our big revelation? A big tall goofy-looking CGI alien picks up the asthma-stricken boy and tries to poison him while Commodus attacks him with a baseball bat. Because, as Mad Max's wife said right before she became worm food, there are no coincidences. Oh yeah, spoiler warning. Whoops.

Okay, so the ending wasn't awful. But here's the sweet irony of all this: It took a decent movie and negated its entire reason for existing. I mean, if the message you want to put forth is that the daughter leaves half-empty (or half-full; tomato/tomahto) glasses around for a reason and the Culkin kid's loss of breathing ability is there to keep him alive, then why the hell did you subject us to this hokey story about aliens in order to get there? Especially when you look at how ridiculous the whole alien plot really is to begin with.

Seriously. Look at these plot holes that you could drive a tractor through. What the fuck are aliens who do a Wicked Witch of the West impression when they get wet doing invading a planet whose surface is 75% water? Rain and humidity, anyone? I mean, let's hope it wasn't monsoon season over in India, because that's where many of their attacks were. And how is it that these same aliens that have the technology to millions of light-years have to use crop circles to navigate a planet? Haven't they invented Post-its™ yet? And for that matter, they can get this far and not be able to get through a bolted door? And if the aliens' only purpose here is to harvest humans, then why do they want to kill them as well? And even beyond aliens: what the fuck is our military doing about this? Why is the news media the only ones who seem to give a fuck about what could essentially be Armageddon? And for that matter, what the hell kind of news service is too stupid to figure out that the "secret weapon" that all of these brave people used to fight the aliens off was friggin' tap water?

In other words, this is not the brilliant and well-researched story that is INDEPENDENCE DAY. I guess without President Pullman and the Fresh Prince, we as a race are helpless against extraterrestrials.

But yeah, the film sells itself as an alien invasion movie, and it's not very good at being one of those. It's better as a character study, but quite honestly, the characters aren't all that interesting to begin with. And talk about annoying kid factor: Approximately half of the dialogue in this film comes from irritating child actors. If that's not enough to get you boiling, I don't know what is.

So, in retrospect, despite all the goofy alien shit, SIGNS is a pretty good, if you stop watching it before the big reveal at the end. It's also not a bad movie if you start it right before that same big reveal at the end. Think of it this way: A slice of bread with peanut butter is pretty tasty, and so is a slice of bread with ham and cheese on top. But you sure wouldn't want to put them together and make a sandwich out of it, would you?


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