The Usual Supernatural Suspects
The Invisible / John Williams
Film Reviews | April 27, 2007 | Comments ()
When I realized that The Invisible had not been prescreened for critics, I suffered a fit of panic, assuming this meant it was at least as bad, if not worse than, this week’s other releases, which included Next and Kickin’ it Old Skool. Yikes.
Well, The Invisible is a stinker, but I won’t lie: If you’re 14 and kind of slow, you might enjoy it. A collage of elements from much better movies, it features good-looking high school kids walking through a non-mystery while every three or four minutes a full-on Snow Patrol video breaks out.
Establishing how bad it is, before a broader summary, only requires a straightforward description of one early scene:
Nick (Justin Chatwin), a CW-dreamy high school senior who aspires to be a poet, sits at the breakfast table with his mom (Marcia Gay Harden). The iciness of their relationship is apparent. Still, she has set out a plate for him with two fried eggs and bacon in the shape of a smiley face. (For those with severe visualization problems, the eggs are the eyes, and two joined strips of bacon curl upwards to form the smile.) After some stilted, antagonistic dialogue, she looks at Nick’s T-shirt, which says “Gluten Free,” and disdainfully asks, “What is that, irony?” A sullen Nick stares ahead, away from mom, and then slowly — I swear — flips his bacon over so it makes a frown.
Anybody still here? OK, here’s the lowdown on the rest:
Against his mother’s wishes, Nick is secretly planning a move to London to participate in a writer’s program (never mind that the one poem to which we’re treated, more than once, is laughable, something about how at night his skin turns into the dust of bones or some such nonsense). (And continuing the parenthetical mood, what’s happened to Harden? I haven’t seen a strong, convincing performance by her in some time. I’m tempted in this case to say it’s just the material, but the kids act circles around her. And the kids are pretty bad.)
Just before he’s scheduled to leave, Nick gets tackled and punched in the cafeteria by the school’s toughie drug dealer, who happens to be a girl, Annie (Margarita Levieva), with the cheekbones of Jessica Alba and the ever-present knit cap of Enrique Iglesias. When she gets busted for a jewelry heist soon after, she wants to know who called the cops. Under interrogation by Annie’s thugs, Nick’s best friend, Pete (Chris Marquette), names Nick as the snitch (it wasn’t really him), figuring he’s safely overseas.
He’s not. He’s still in Seattle, and Annie ends up delivering a kick to his face that presumably kills him. For the rest of the movie, one Nick — bodily-Nick — is splayed in a sewer drain, unconscious and close to death, while the other — spirit-Nick — gets to roam around, a la Patrick Swayze in Ghost, trying to solve his own murder. Unlike Swayze, though, who was dead as a doornail and just looking for closure (and maybe one more spectral feel-up of Demi Moore), Nick is in a purgatorial state. Getting people to find his body in time could save his life.
Frustrated by his inability to influence events now that he’s ethereal, spirit-Nick tries to kill himself, and I don’t blame him; I might try, too, if so many Coldplay and Radiohead rip-offs were the soundtrack to my every step. He fails, bullets not working so well on spirits. Good thing, too, because he eventually figures things out, with the aid of Annie, who we see sneaking into Nick’s room, talking to his photos (how convenient for exposition) and making it clear that she had affection for him when they were younger. In other words, she may have secretly loved the guy she killed. How emo is that?!
The movie begins and ends with embarrassingly bad scenes, but everything in the middle has at least some potential heft to it, and the cinematography is much better than what’s deserved. But with so many superior alternatives for this kind of fix — Ghost, The Sixth Sense, Donnie Darko, Brick — a few small, wasted strengths aren’t enough to lift The Invisible above the category of unnecessary failures.
John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s an editor at Harper Perennial and a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.