Movie Review: Red Lights

Mike Finkelstein is psychic. You pick a card, any card, and he will tell you what it is! Okay…is it the…four of spades?! No?? Um…six of hearts! No…Okay, okay, one more guess! Queen of clubs!!! NO?!?! Damnit…Fine…While he tries to work out his psychic kinks, here is his review for “Red Lights”.

Mike Finkelstein is psychic.  You pick a card, any card, and he will tell you what it is!  Okay…is it the…four of spades?!  No??  Um…six of hearts!  No…Okay, okay, one more guess!  Queen of clubs!!!  NO?!?!  Damnit…Fine…While he tries to work out his psychic kinks, here is his review for “Red Lights”.

PLOT: Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are two paranormal researchers looking to find any example of real psychic abilities.  They have disproven all cases handed to them except one: a legendary psychic named Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) who retired decades ago after a rival journalist suddenly died at one of his shows.  When Silver randomly comes out of retirement, Buckley, against the wishes of a timid Matheson, pushes forward with an investigation that may lead to the first true example of psychic abilities ever, or the hoax of a lifetime.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  RED LIGHTS is a film that I desperately wanted to like.  Written by the amazing Rodrigo Cortes (scribe and director of BURIED, which I think is a Hitchcockian masterpiece), it seemed to boast an intriguing and original plot, as well as a cast of well respected actors all in need of a career boost.  Yet sadly, when the twists and turns finally came to a halt and a revelation, RED LIGHTS faltered, crumbling under the strain of too many inconsistencies and wrong turns that just left the audience numb.

Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are two paranormal researchers for hire, looking for the truth behind any and all psychic abilities.  While she believes that everyone is a fraud (it all depends to what extent), he is still trying to make up his mind on the matter.  So when psychic legend Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) comes out of retirement to do a handful of shows, Matheson and Buckley start to investigate the man, and end up uncovering much more than they bargained for.

For the first forty minutes, RED LIGHTS is pretty captivating.  Its pre-opening credits sequence is both disturbing and funny, with Weaver and Murphy bouncing off of each other beautifully as they take down one of the bigger psychics in the country.  (They’re little relationship is almost more familial than professionalism—a fun dynamic to play.)  Add to that some deep and thought provoking questions about death and the afterlife and an introduction to DeNiro that makes us think the man is finally back to form, and we have a bit of anticipation.

But then, things start to go wrong.  It may have started innocently with a few minor instances of exposition (including a direct line quote from LETHAL WEAPON that made me laugh out loud), but soon, a tangled web starts to form around us, and nothing seemed to blend.  Yes, there were many interesting moments of what seemed to be real psychic abilities and others of what seemed to be obvious psychic fraud, but instead of keeping them on a line toward a huge revelation/payoff, we get a mess of confusion and confliction.  Before we know it, Cortes is intertwining some great scenes with some really irrational ones, and is giving us not intelligent questions worthy of his film, but random creep outs and cheap scares that make us feel almost insulted as an audience.  It’s a mess.

As for our actors, I can’t exactly blame the veterans, but Sigourney Weaver and DeNiro almost seemed bored in their respective roles.  Weaver may still be one of the better actresses out there, but she was definitely going through the motions at points, and DeNiro’s Silver, while mostly engaging, quickly goes from captivating to dull as the confusion rises (not to mention he almost transforms into a sort of silent boogeyman in a scene that made no sense in the big scheme of things).  It really was Cillian Murphy who was the savior in all of this, proving that he is an actor worthy of much more demanding roles (especially some leads other than RED EYE), and Elizabeth Olsen is showing yet again that she is more than just her sisters’ name.  She is cute and fun, and I’m really starting to respect her as an actress.

RED LIGHTS could have been Rodrigo Cortes’ next great film.  The premise was rich with opportunities, and with such a premise came some beautifully shot scenes and some intriguing, thought provoking dialogue.  However, as an entire movie, RED LIGHTS is scattered, messy, and completely off-kilter.  By the time we reach the crazy twist of an ending (one of the few revelations I would have really enjoyed if the rest of the film just made sense with it), I was so frustrated with all the randomness I just went through, that I really didn’t care anymore.  And for a movie that had so much going for it just about an hour-and-a-half earlier, that’s sad to hear.

If only a psychic could have told us in advance and saved us the time…

GRADE: C+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) CILLIAN MURPHY: The man is one of the better young actors out there today.  Calm and collected, but angry and wired when he needed to be, he made for an excellent protagonist.  I really hope he starts to get more mainstream roles, as he should, soon.

2) ELIZABETH OLSEN: This girl is really proving, step by step, that she is more than just her name.  She is cute, fun, and a real actor, and I’m really starting to respect what she can do.

3) ENDING: If you throw away all the inconsistencies and plot holes that destroy the rest of the film, the ending is actually very smart, and almost poetic.  A beautiful tribute that goes a little deeper than just the conflict of “Is he a fake?”, and yet, at the same time…(look at Dislike #4)

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) ROBERT DE NIRO: Yes, the man is menacing and creepy as anything here, but really?  This man is a living legend of acting…I don’t understand why he keeps picking so many roles that are beneath him.  While it is a step in the right direction after LITTLE FOCKERS and NEW YEAR’S EVE, the entire script should have been a warning to go for something a little better.

2) “I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT”: Really?  Less than fifteen minutes in, and you pull a LETHAL WEAPON line word for word?  Nope…not good…

2) CONVOLUTED/MAJOR PLOT HOLES: Every time you think you know what is going on, something else happens to completely disregard it.  The only problem is with so many disregards (and not to mention moments of sheer idiocy/coincidence/cheap scares), no matter where the film ends up, a LOT of things aren’t going to make any sense.

3) CONSTANT SPOOKS: It almost felt like Cortes cheapened the film with these cheap scares littered throughout…bad guy in the mirror, shadows lurking, a dream within a dream…they’re all here and ready to get to you like a bad HALLOWEEN sequel.

4) ENDING: With such an ending, there was no closure.  Yes, some questions were answered, but others made no sense whatsoever.  Too bad, seeing as how it could have been a beautiful capping if done right.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) If you’re wondering who the Robert De Niro look alike was, it’s actually Spanish director Eugenio Mira.

2) After researching his role and meeting with psychics, Robert De Niro developed a belief in the paranormal, saying, “There’s no way they could have known certain things and they said them, so in that sense, I have no answer than to say that I have to believe that there’s something there that they pick up psychically. I don’t know what it is.”

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