The Sixth Sense
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 106 Minutes

Bruce Willis: Malcolm Crowe
Toni Collette: Lynn Sear
Olivia Williams: Anna Crowe
Haley Joel Osment: Cole Sear
Donnie Wahlberg: Vincent Gray
Mischa Barton: Kyra Collins

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Barry Mendel and Sam Mercer; Directed and screenwritten by N. Night Shyamalan

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Marriage between the supernatural force and the movie screen is like one long, fascinating war with unpredictable results, and in "The Sixth Sense," a movie in which a boy sees ghosts, the filmmakers appear to be fighting a losing battle. Certainly it's not because the idea is already familiar to us (ever seen "Poltergeist"?). Certainly it's not because the movie delivers a strong performance from a talented young star. No, these moviemakers' problem is not their premise, but rather, the execution of the setup: they can neither find the right tone, or contract a steady pace that can hold our attention spans. And yet they strive, adding plot twist after plot twist in hopes that it will all gel together. By the time the film reaches its startling, wonderful climax, we are tired, disappointed, and saddened by the dreary amount of time it has taken to get to such a conclusion. The movie isn't just a disappointment--it's a mess.

A combination of two separate stories is part of the problem; here we have the tale of a boy blessed with the elusive sixth sense (telepathy, of sorts), in addition to the tale of a waning child psychologist who thinks his career can get back on track with this special case. In attempt to tell these stories, there is sudden distraction from the interesting images, such as the moment when the young boy sees a little girl underneath a desk, or a man standing right beside him while he's in the car, and no one else does. Director N. Night Shyamalan, who is currently making an adaptation of "Stuart Little," does not know which story is more important--we would like to see this kid embrace his special gift (even when it scares us adults), and yet we are also concerned for the psychologist, given his dreadful past. Both intertwine in complex, distracting ways, which eventually become part of a dull, shapeless, monumental dud that has observant sights flashing in front of our eyes ever so often. The movie acts like it is stuck at a fork in the road, and doesn't know what direction to turn.

This special child, Cole Sear, is played by Haley Joel Osment, who is probably most remembered as Forrest Jr. in Robert Zemeckis' masterpiece "Forrest Gump." But here, he achieves the kind of performance that will determine a promising career in the distant future. It is an honest, heartfelt, well-explored role, in which his eyes reveal personal dread, and his voice shakes with almost perplexed terror. No doubt this young star has brilliant talent. Any kind of audience turnout is owed to Osment's performance, one of the most convincing of the year. Too bad the movie isn't just as compelling.

The movie is mostly told in long conversations between Cole and his psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis). Cole, as you should know by now, is no normal human being. He sees dead people, and it scares the hell out of him. Crowe, a former master man of psychology, begins noticing similarities in Cole and his last patient, a violent man who shot himself just a year before. Tension between them escalates. Cole tells Crowe that the dead people want him to do things for him. All while this is happening, we are seeing the chilling images as displayed through the kid's eyes--ghost who walk around, sit, talk, see, and do things that ordinary people do. To the film's credit, I will admit that the images are well-shot and can be brilliantly eerie at times. But eerie is the only thing that they are. How I wish that they had been so much more.

This is your basic cherry-without-a-dessert flick, meaning that there is a rewarding finish but no worthy structure before it. When the story is not shifting around in dreadful ways, characters are often reciting dialogue in low whispers, as if they think that the people in the audience have the hearing to pick up radio frequency. But the dialogue is not meticulous or stale--in fact, it's quite superb. So why do we have to struggle to hear some of it? Maybe because the child believes that high voices can attract the ghosts, and that whispers would prevent them from listening in on important conversations. Nonetheless there should be some more volume, at least, for those struggling to hear the words.

And yet the movie received critical raves, and commercial success that has allowed it to remain atop the box office for more weeks than George Lucas' "The Phantom Menace." Such success has forced me to question my own rating system. Was I being too hard? Was there something that I missed? Fearing these things would continuously come back to haunt me, a second viewing was imperative. But alas, like the first time, I came out with the same feeling, thus the same rating. Here is a movie of long, mind-numbing, tiresome proportions and a brilliant conclusion. No one, however, should be forced to endure all the heartache just for five minutes of audacious footage.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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