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IN SHORT: Best left wrapped. [Rated R for violence, language, and sexuality/ nudity. 110 minutes]
It's a well known and far overused gimmick in suspense thrillers to set a scene in a very quiet mode: say a single, attractive, vulnerable woman out wandering in a lonely woods. Dead quiet. then . . . BAM! Thunder or some other loud noise blasts out of the surround speakers and the audience jumps in their seat from the sudden shock. Then, they settle back, sometimes with a giggle, 'cuz they've been had.
And so we have The Gift, which aims for the feel of a scary story told around a campfire (saying more than that will tip the gimmick, though you'll probably figure that out way in advance). The movie has to resort to the old BAM! because trying to set up thrills by using psychic visions as a plot device is pretty damned hard, if not impossible. Psychic flashes always involve detached images that, if the script is well written and the editing and pacing is top notch, eventually start to make sense in the viewer's mind. That is not the case here.
Sweet Widow Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett, click for StarTalk) reads cards and uses her "feelings" to comfort residents in her small town of Brixton, Georgia. Annie doesn't call herself "psychic" per se, and while the word "tarot" is never mentioned at all -- her deck looks more like a set for testing ESP -- that is what is implied. Our cousin, a professional tarot reader, would have had a fit. Tough. It's a minor detail in a minor story involving school principal Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear) and his fiancee Jessica King (Katie Holmes), daughter of the richest man in town. When Jessica goes missing and the cops can't find any clues, they come to Annie. Sheriff Johnson (J.K. Simmons) doesn't believe any of this stuff, but Annie comes up with enough that D.A. David Duncan (Gary Cole) busts and jails no-good wife beater Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves). Barksdale has been doing the nasty with Jessica on the side -- heck, half the town was doing Jessica on the side -- and had more than once threatened Annie for giving advice to his wife Valerie (Hilary Swank). We should also point out that, while Annie is a widow, she has received more than her fair share of attention from the Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi) who is the town's, uh, token mentally challenged person and has defended Annie against the violent Donnie in the past.
We get a big trial. We get a big conviction. We get Annie having a new feeling . . . oh you see this thing coming so far away that there's no suspense in the damned thing at all.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Gift, he would have paid...
Rent. Gee. Keanu Reeves as a violent nasty man. That's two in a row. Time to make another Matrix movie.
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