I panned "The Sixth Sense" when it was first unleashed on an unsuspecting public in August, 1999. I found it to be a hollow, forced ghost story with little spookiness and a twist ending that felt neither twisted nor organically connected to the rest of the film. Out of curiosity to see exactly what I missed that the rest of the free world saw in it, I attended a screening of "Sense" 10 months after it opened and found myself this time taken with the mystical world that kid genius director M. Night Shyamalan created in a way that I couldn't grasp all those months earlier. His new film is titled "Unbreakable" and it has the unenviable task of following up the biggest film of 1999 that didn't star Jar Jar Binks. I don't need to flash forward 10 months to tell you right now that lightning hasn't struck twice for Shyamalan .
A relentless vanity film, "Unbreakable" is tolerable for most of its running time. It lurks around corners, builds slowly and deliberately, and generates more and more interest in the characters as it chugs along. Then this bizarre ending arrives and quickly snaps the viewer back into reality. But more on that in a second.
It's inevitable that most directors make the same film over and over again. Why fix what isn't broke? However, Shyamalan crafts "Unbreakable" in the exact same way as "Sixth Sense." Both films move at a turtle's pace and both share that moody-as-hell vibe that I give full credit to Shyamalan for creating. He is a gifted director and he is well aware of the audience and how easily he can manipulate them. It's simply that "Unbreakable" cannot shake that moldy leftover feeling that drapes over it. The two stories couldn't be different, but you would never know it from Shyamalan's directing style.
Nevertheless it is the story that Disney and Shyamalan don't want you to know before you buy a ticket. I'm all for surprises, however "Unbreakable" does not contain a "Sixth Sense" style twist so there is little to spoil. The story itself, if fully explained, is so ludicrous, so unbelievably goofball that to get into it would be a great disservice to anyone planning to see "Unbreakable." I would hate to ruin an experience that needs to be seen to be believed. The basics are this: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a security worker who has survived a train wreck that killed all on board. He is left alive without a scratch. In fact, he has never been hurt physically in his life. Enter Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book fanatic who suffers from brittle bone disease. Elijah claims to know why David has been able to avoid harm for so long. David, unable to accept his destiny, begins to learn just how far his gifts go and how they have a place in the world.
"Unbreakable" opens with some short text explaining the history and popularity of the comic book. If you couple this with the plot synopsis, then you might have a good clue to where the picture is going with its plot. This direction in story is the very reason why "Unbreakable" isn't as dramatically sound as "The Sixth Sense." I kept hoping, praying, outright yelling at the screen that "Unbreakable" doesn't go where it ends up going. However, it does, and boy does it end unspeakably badly. It will be fun to hear what people think of the resolution to this film. It could be a mixed reaction, maybe even praise, but that wouldn't be the smart bet to make. "Unbreakable"'s climax is just the silliest thing in the world. It doesn't leave you cold, nor does it answer one of the thousands of questions that remain at the end of the film. It just ends on this sour note with Shyamalan seemingly grinning from ear to ear, believing he took us all on a great ride again.
"Unbreakable" opens with a reasonable amount of tension and suspense. Through another moody Bruce Willis performance, the journey of David Dunn had me at the edge of my seat. It's a good but quiet performance that is rendered bitter by that god-awful resolution. Samuel L Jackson also gives a stiff but engrossing performance as the wily Elijah. It's Robin Wright Penn as David's wife Audrey that breaks my heart. Penn is an insanely gifted actress, but Shyamalan wastes her in a thankless role that requires nothing but standing behind Willis and crying.
In the grand tradition of Steven Spielberg's "1941," or Barry Levinson's "Toys," "Unbreakable" is the end result of a studio and creative team that couldn't say no to Shyamalan. He gets away with murder this time out and I will be amazed if "Unbreakable" isn't laughed out of theaters by Christmas. The film isn't awful, it just has an ending that puts a wet blanket on the whole thing.
Filmfodder Grade: C