April 27, 2007

Movie Review: The Invisible

Posted in Movies at 10:01 pm by Calico Jack

It’s always a bad sign for a film when its distributor refuses to screen it for critics. This practice has become increasingly common as studios hope to stave off a wave of bad reviews opening weekend, thereby maximizing profits — at least, until word-of-mouth spreads and audiences abandon the film in droves. However, there have been a few films released over the past several years which would have been well-received critically had there been pre-screenings available.

The Invisible is not one of them. Although blessed with a strong cast pedigree (on paper, at least) and a gifted writer moonlighting as director, The Invisible is little more than a Life-Affirming Lesson for sullen emo kids who enjoy staying cooped up in their rooms all day, listening to the Bravery (excuse me while I stick pins in my eardrums) and writing sappy, narcissistic posts on their LiveJournals. What could have been an intriguing murder mystery with a fascinating concept quickly dissolves into an overwrought, emotionally strained picture which strikes false notes at nearly every opportunity.

Justin Chatwin, best known for his starring role in the painfully annoying The Chumscrubber, does little here to expand his acting range beyond two expressions worn throughout the entire film: “Life sucks and I’m mad at the world” and “Why isn’t anyone listening to me!” As Nick Powell, a ridiculously rich high school senior with a long-dead father and an emotionally absent mother (played with Razzie-worthy woodenness by Marcia Gay Harden), Nick is one of those kids who has everything going for him: intelligence, good looks, piles of money and the interest of the School Hottie. So naturally, of course, he spends his days withdrawn and sullen, hating the world and everything within. He spends much of his free time writing papers for fellow students and helping them cheat on exams for money, something which he surely has no need of.

After a supposed friend frames Nick for the cops’ busting of school delinquent Annie (job description: thief, bully and tough chick with a latent heart of gold), Annie and her stoner posse ambush Nick one night on his way home from a Hollywood Party — so-called because of its abundance of good-looking guys and girls splashing around in a pool and drinking beer. Nick is brutally attacked and left for dead in the woods, yet the next morning he appears at his high school looking none the worse for wear. Everything seems normal, until his half-hearted answer to a teacher’s question is completely ignored. No one in his class can hear or even see him; and with a sudden flash of Movie Insight, Nick realizes that he is actually dead — his body is still lying in a sewer somewhere back in the forest.

Nick isn’t truly dead, of course, or else this would be an awful copy of The Sixth Sense. At least audiences can breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate The Invisible‘s wretchedness on its own terms: Nick is merely dying, and he has only a few days to get the attention of someone, anyone to find his body and bring him back to life.

No, wait…are you sure?

Oh, right, sorry — I didn’t mean anyone. Apparently the only person who can save Nick from death is Annie (Margarita Levieva), the same girl who kicked his head against a rock.

And why is she the only person?

No idea.

Okay, how exactly can she save him?

I don’t have the slightest idea — and I saw the movie.

The Invisible makes the first of many missteps by having Nick be a self-absorbed rich kid with no interests outside of himself and few true friends. The audience is supposed to empathize with Nick and his struggles, yet I’m left wondering why exactly I should care about a whiny brat who goes through life masquerading as Captain Sullen. Unlike Shia LaBeouf’s character from Disturbia, Nick has absolutely no reason to hate the world. And once he finds out about his impending death, he acts in the stupidest way imaginable, following people for absolutely no reason and randomly yelling at them in a futile attempt to get their attention.

It is rather hard to believe, but Marcia Gay Harden is the weakest link in the entire movie — and that is saying quite a bit. She is supposed to play a grieving mother valiantly attempting to keep a straight face, but Harden gives a one-note performance: all stoicism, with no hint of the raw emotion supposedly bubbling beneath the surface. Her character is fashioned from a block of wood, and Harden embraces that description with gusto. Other actresses have done a marvelous job of balancing duty and grief (Helen Mirren in The Queen is a recent example), but having two dimensions is just a little bit out of reach for Harden. As a result, all of her scenes lack emotional resonance, a fatal flaw considering the amount of screen time she receives.

The two previous examples are only scratching the surface of the problems with The Invisible. I could go on about the inconsistency of Annie’s character, and the laughably gauche way in which the movie decides to show her transformation from Witch to Princess (hint: it involves a beanie). I could describe the abundant plot holes and the presence of the always annoying Idiotic Cop Syndrome, or ridicule the Tearjerker Ending™. But why waste the reader’s time? The Invisible will surely find some fans amongst disaffected youth; but for the rest of us, it’s a gloomy exercise in inspidity.

D+.

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