Imagine this: Fox Mulder, contented. Madly in love with a gorgeous wife — could be Scully, even — living in a beautiful, rambling, expensive house. There’s a puppy, maybe. His boss loves him. He’s the FBI’s star agent.
Pretty boring, huh?
Now imagine this: Richard Gere, contented. Madly in love with his 20-years-younger wife. They just bought a beautiful, rambling, expensive house. (No puppy.) His boss loves him. He’s the Washington Post‘s star reporter.
Pretty boring, huh? All this shiny-happy shit makes for a really dull movie. Love may make the world go round, but angst-ridden misery makes entertainment go round. So you know that something bad is bound to happen to Gere when we are presented with this kind of introduction in The Mothman Prophecies.
Or, not to him so much as to his wife, who, as played by the made- for- TV Debra Messing, is pretty much doomed by dint of her made-for-TVness and much lower billing than Gere. Nobody would watch The Mothman Prophecies Starring That ‘Will & Grace’ Chick.
Though how Richard Gere (Autumn in New York, Runaway Bride) could be more of a draw is beyond me. The man is his own walking X-file: How does he keep getting work? Two years after the death of his wife — or, not his wife, but the wife of Washington Post Star Reporter John Klein — Gere wanders into Fox Mulder spooky-paranormal territory, but he can’t manage to find his way into Fox Mulder haunted-driven-obsessed-damn-near-suicidal territory. With no sense of irony, no concept of subtext, nothing at all going on behind that pretty face, Gere lets his jutting square-jawness and blinking dumbfoundment stand in for Klein’s supposed grief-stricken anguish and In Search Of… befuddlement.
God, I’m really missing Fox Mulder on Sunday nights.
So, driving late one night from Washington to somewhere else, Gere blinks his way into the ironically named Point Pleasant, West Virginia, hundreds of miles out of his way in the wrong direction and arriving there too short a time after he left home. Laura Linney (The House of Mirth, You Can Count on Me) is the sheriff here in this little rathole of a town shriveling up in postindustrial rural nowhere, and damned if you can’t practically see her mentally slapping Gere to get some kind of human reaction out of him, but nothing doing. He just blinks in the face of all the kooky stuff going on here — electrical dead zones, missing time, weird lights, strange phone calls. I’d be tempted to put it all down to pollution from the chemical factory on the edge of town — you know, the brains of all the townsfolk stewing in polycarbonwhatevers — but Gere is determined, blinkingly so, to get to the bottom of the eerieness, because it has something ridiculous to do with his wife’s death.
See, he’s trying to be Fox Mulder haunted-driven-obsessed-damn-near-suicidal, but it’s kinda laughable.
There’s this sort of mothman creature appearing to people and calling them up on the phone to talk about Chapstick, and it makes predictions, too. Not useful predictions, of course, like this week’s lotto numbers, but vague, cryptic stuff that’s only understandable in retrospect. This would piss me off — “Gee, thanks, Mothman, for not giving us enough information to save all those people I can now see you were mysteriously predicting the deaths of.” I’d wonder why the Mothman was bothering, frankly. But Gere keeps blinking away, investimagating stuff and doing reporterly things. He wanders around and talks to people and generally takes us nowhere. Kinda like the film itself. Maybe it’s like how that one paranormal researcher describes things: “You’re asking for an explanation of something that can’t be explained rationally.” Like Gere’s career. Or this movie.
Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) puts on Twin Peaks airs — traffic lights blowing in the nighttime wind, for instance — and muddles his film in a sickly gray-green color scheme and tries real hard to creep us out. And he even manages a few minor scares. But then, so did Scooby Doo. And Shaggy and Daphne and the gang were far more animated than Richard Gere will ever be. Maybe that’s the big problem here: He though Fox Mulder deadpan meant “Don’t move your face at all.” Except for the blinking.