‘Signs’ Point to Mediocre Film

M. Night Shyamalan. The director/writer/producer’s very name is spooky. But maybe that’s only because he first delivered to film fans that oh-my-god-he’s-a-ghost hit “The Sixth Sense,” then followed it up with that I-would-have-never-guessed-he-was-the-villian movie “Unbreakable.” Certainly Shyamalan’s first two films established him as a vibrant young cinematic storyteller, and Shyamalan’s new film “Signs” again picks up that creepy vibe he handled so well in his first two films.

In the quiet farm lands south of Philly, retired reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) raises his two young children with the help of his brother (Joaquin Phoenix). One sunny morning on the farm, Graham’s two children (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin) discover… that’s right… crop circles. Spooky.

Shyamalan’s definitely on his game in “Signs.” All the moody stuff that he achieved through the use of production, sets, sounds and cinematography in his first two films are present in the new one. You can practically smell and feel the corn stalks whistling and crackling in the opening scene.

But besides the techy film student stuff, Shyamalan must have been preparing for his scenes in the film (he spends more time on screen in this film than in his first two put together).

The casting for “Signs” is questionable at best, although in a few scenes the actors do hit the mark. Gibson seems unable to find the Shyamalan’s favorite protagonist: The silent self-defeatest guy who has lost connection with his wife. In many scenes Gibson looks like he wants to pant his face, don a kilt and hack through someone’s femur. Shyamalan should have stuck with Bruce Willis. (To be fair, Phoenix and the kids play their parts well, but Gibson seem to only drain their performances).

As for the writing, “Signs” is full of clever lines and well set up humorous moments — folks in the audience were constantly laughing out loud. But on top of memorizing his lines, Shyamalan must have been watching an episode of “Kids say the Darnedest Things” — most of films humor comes from the Culkin and Breslin. And plotting? “Signs” has a workable one.

Shyamalan’s “Signs” is a good film. It makes you laugh and it’s loaded with many aahh-that-scared-me moments. However on a whole “Signs” fails to complete Shyamalan’s celluloid triptych.

Shyamalan . . . now that’s spooky.