Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Red Lights
Simon Says, And Emperors Seeing Spirits Having Flown

Robert De Niro as Simon Silver in Rodrigo Cortés' suspense thriller "Red Lights". 
Millennium Entertainment


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lights, camera ... red lights!, for that's the hocus-pocus Simon Says of Rodrigo Cortés' new suspense thriller "Red Lights", which expands its U.S. release on Friday.  Doctors Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) and Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) of Illinois research, investigate and debunk paranormal phenomena, faith healers and séance performers.  They teach classes in college about what to spot: markers, or, "red lights", signifying smoke and mirrors.  Mr. Cortés' film is humorous in its comedic and dramatic moments but astonishingly thin overall, often straining for credulity.  In seeking what is truth and what isn't the film itself becomes as big a fraud as some of those it seeks to expose.

Margaret asks Tom, a physicist, why he works with her after all the years.  Tom never answers.  He's already advised Margaret to get some sleep.  Both work to uncover fraud in a mentalist on stage during a sold-out show.  For a while Mr. Cortés' film is fascinating and entertaining.  "Red Lights" thrives early on in weaving personal back stories into dialogue, some of which work, especially in Ms. Weaver's case -- she's good here as the skeptical Dr. Matheson, quick with a quip but vulnerable to past pains and one Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), whom she fears.  Tom wants to investigate Silver, a renowned blind psychic who returns to prominence after a 30-year-hiatus due to a mysterious death he's been blamed for.  Tom has always suspected Silver as a phony; Margaret wants no part of any probe, having been wary of the world-famous Silver for years. 

Steeped in red herrings, the initially absorbing "Red Lights" asks its audience to invest in the possibility that some mentalists and psychics may wield genuine, devastating power.  The film, which behaves as part-horror, part documentary and part-experiment, occasionally self-mocks and plays with its subject matter, injecting its own dose of skepticism into a story written and edited by Mr. Cortés.  Unfortunately, with its fair share of cheap, throwaway scares -- a couple of which play on racist fears and stereotypes -- any semblance of story is overwhelmed by cliché in the second hour.  Moreover, the film deliberately withholds information about a character in order to engineer its sloppy, laughable reveal at film's end.  The result of "Red Lights" is a waste of a good cast that includes Toby Jones ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") and Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene", "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding"), the latter horribly underutilized.

Unlike his previous (and better film) "Buried" Mr. Cortés goes large-scale with "Red Lights", making operatic the foolishness on display, sinking his film for good halfway through with extraneous passages and hyper-acted windbag moments.  Mr. De Niro, scary and sinister here as Simon Silver, gets a chance to again play (and the film plays off of) "Cape Fear"'s Max Cady, only this time Cady as televangelist-psychic.  He speaks in deadpan matter-of-fact tones.  Then he bellows at his captive audience.  Woe unto you if you dare defy him.

As you watch "Red Lights" you can see it tries hard to be a genuine thriller about a subject that often turns audiences into laughing gas victims.  Mr. Cortés is at least aware of the preconceived notions audiences bring to such films, so he plays up the dramatic tension between Margaret and Tom, introduces additional characters and charlatans before the film shifts quickly into horror and conventional thriller territory.  Overwrought and overdrawn, "Red Lights" feels exhausted, recycled and nonsensical, and I felt that Mr. Cortés and his script were flailing away furiously to keep any hope of solid drama alive.  Disjointed and uneven, "Red Lights" doesn't quite know where it wants to land.  The horror and suspense mars the nuts-and-bolts make-up of some characters, abandoning what few intriguing story threads existed in favor of full-bore fire, brimstone and mayhem. 

"How did you do that?", several characters ask during the film.  I wanted to ask, "how did they get away with that?"

Also with: Joely Richardson, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Jeany Spark, Jan Cornet, Burn Gorham, Craig Roberts, Karen David.

"Red Lights" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language and some violence.  Some of the violence is disturbing.  The film's running time is one hour and 53 minutes. 

COPYRIGHT 2012.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW