The Gift



US 2000
dir Sam Raimi
scr Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
cin Jamie Anderson
stars Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi
110 minutes

Billy Bob Thornton wrote The Gift way back in ’94, and was presumably persuaded to fish it out of his sock drawer after Sling Blade and A Simple Plan propelled him to stardom. This would explain the cheesy, threadbare staleness of what’s an extremely old-fashioned psychic whodunnit in which medium Blanchett solves a Deep South murder case. Or does she?!

Plan director Raimi just about handles the shocks OK, but lacks the talent to shake such cliched material into life – he even has Blanchett’s hair ruffled by a breeze while experiencing one of her ‘spells’ indoors. While it’s good to Raimi him back on familiar turf after his abortive foray into Costner-baseball territory with For the Love of the Game, with each new movie he offers further evidence that his nifty Evil Dead hits were a misleading false dawn.

After a promising start (the first vision, featuring a slo-mo falling pencil and some dirty feet standing in water, is marvellously spooky) The Gift rapidly heads down depressingly uninspired routes, including some jawdropping courtroom scenes whose ludicrousness rivals Wild Things – in that picture the comedy was, of course, intentional. The unsinkable Blanchett sails on regardless – she’s the only thing that makes the movie watchable, but her starry supporting cast aren’t so lucky. They’re either ludicrously underused (Rosemary Harris in a sixty-second cameo as a ghost) or just badly directed (Ribisi’s incomprehensibly garbled, unbearably irrirating mechanic). You can’t blame them, of course for a script which reduces their already two-dimensional ‘characters’ to crude cogs in a mechanical plot deisgned to throw up up one unconvincing red herring after another.

The killer is insultingly guessable – you won’t need ESP to work the whole thing out very early on. There’s no predicting the absurdity of the final twist, however – as with What Lies Beneath, it involves some supernatural activity that’s a complete departure from everything that’s gone before. This isn’t Evil Dead 4, Sam – more’s the pity.

February 28th, 2001

by Neil Young
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