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Gloomy 'Mothman' Attracts Little Heat

Richard Gere's new thriller, purportedly based on prophetic events in a West Virginia town, could use some levity.


Don't pick up the phone!

Don't pick up the phone!

The last warning is for Richard Gere's latest character, a Washington Post reporter who is about to receive a call from his dead wife.

The first warning is for Gere, a movie star who is about to receive a call from his agent with an offer to play a Washington Post reporter.

Because Gere ignored better judgment in at least one of these instances, we have "The Mothman Prophecies," a new thriller that purports to be based on true events but operates in that bombastic plane of reality reserved for the apocalyptic horror movie.

Directed by Mark Pellington with a wide-eyed morbidity that won't quit, "The Mothman Prophecies" is the kind of conservative creep-fest that believes that the most effective chillers are humorless and nocturnal.

So it is in the dark of night that reporter John Klein (Gere) shares his, and the movie's, final laugh as he and his wife, Mary (Debra Messing), careen down a road and into an accident that will prove to be the end of Mary. (We know that Mary is a dead duck from first sighting, since the rules of the game dictate that the generically beautiful spouse with nothing else going on in her life must disappear to make room for the edgier, career-driven female lead.)

And it is in the dark of night that John drives toward Richmond on assignment and breaks down inexplicably in Point Pleasant, a West Virginia hamlet with absolutely nothing pleasant to recommend it. There, he is threatened with a rifle by irate resident Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton, sporting a beard that maintains the same level of backwater unruliness throughout), who claims that John has trespassed on his property three nights running.

Enter the career-driven female lead in the person of Sgt. Connie Parker (Laura Linney), the local cop who confides to John that all sorts of other strange doings have recently gone down around town--bizarre phone calls and sightings that seem somehow linked to prophetic drawings that John's wife sketched in the hospital before dying. Putting on his investigative reporter's hat, John chases down an elusive authority on prophetic phenomena (Alan Bates) who plays hard to get (as elusive authorities invariably do), since the secrets he harbors are too horrible and incredible to contemplate.

There is very little about the hoary conventions of "The Mothman Prophecies" that couldn't be improved by a little levity, a little more sunlight and some judicious cutting. The film takes place between the Christmas holidays of a two-year span, but by the time the chaotic finale rolls around, it feels like we've been sitting there since the Three Wise Men first pulled into Bethlehem. Gere and Linney emote with dead earnestness as if they're doing Eugene O'Neill, but this is one very long night's journey into day.


MPAA rating: PG-13, for terror, some sexuality and language. Times guidelines: too grimly intense for younger children but OK for teens.

'The Mothman Prophecies'

Richard Gere ... John Klein

Laura Linney ... Connie Parker

Will Patton ... Gordon Smallwood

Debra Messing ... Mary Klein

Alan Bates ... Alexander Leek

Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment present a Lakeshore Entertainment production, released by Sony Pictures. Director Mark Pellington. Producers Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Gary Goldstein. Executive producers Terry Tannebaum, Richard S. Wright, Terry McKay. Screenplay by Richard Hatem, based on the book by John A. Keel. Cinematographer Fred Murphy. Editor Brian Berdan. Costume designer Susan Lyall. Music Tomandandy. Production designer Richard Hoover. Art director Troy Sizemore. Set decorator Diana Stoughton. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.

In general release.

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