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Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix are terribly vexed.

© 2002, Touchstone
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As commonly known signs go, there's only one necessary to explain the mysterious confusion that has befallen M. Night Shyamalan's latest directorial venture, "Signs" (IMDb listing): a big, fat thumbs down. The attempt to duplicate the winning formula of his box-office hit "The Sixth Sense" is so blatantly obvious that this movie could well give its critically acclaimed director the reputation of a one-trick pony. And it doesn't do the story, the characters, or the actors any favors either.

Meet Graham Hess (Mel Gibson in a role, much as it pains me to say this, seemingly patched together from cutting-room-floor leftovers of everything he's ever played before), farmer, former reverend and now-widowed father of two young children. Since the death of his wife in a gruesome car accident, Hess has turned away from his faith and frequently contemplates the question of coincidence or fate. The shambles of his life are put into an utterly different context the morning he finds mysterious, circular signs in the middle of his cornfield. Initially suspecting merely a hoax, Hess is forced to contemplate other possibilities when these signs are found in fields across the globe and the evening news brings reports of countless unidentified flying objects, undetectable by any radar system used anywhere in the world.

From here on events unfold rapidly and preposterously. Hess and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix, most disappointing after his brilliant performance in "Gladiator") board up the house and barricade themselves in the basement with Hess' son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin), to fight off the proverbial green aliens come to harvest humans for ominous purposes. Coincidence? I think not, and neither does Shyamalan.

Notable for its utter lack of commendable performances, "Signs" is an excruciating exercise in how to alienate audiences, waste talent (not to mention $$$), and seriously damage the promising careers of all involved. The incoherent and insubstantial story line, utterly predictable jokes and painfully lame dialogue are outshone only by the overly dramatic and hence unintentionally funny moments. Fate? I hope not.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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