NOW PLAYING: The Mothman Prophecies

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

To set the record straight, let's clear up a few misconceptions right at the outset. The Mothman Prophecies is not about a geeky entomology student who gets bit by a radioactive moth and gains the power to see the future. I know, I know, there's nothing cooler than a guy with giant, dusty moth wings and ten-foot crime fighting probiscus, but we're just going to have to wait for Hollywood to figure that out.

Actually, Mothman is pretty cool. What I really thought was that I was in for a low-rent Richard Gere rehash of Silence of the Lambs, but it's nothing of the sort. Gere plays John Klein, a Washington Post reporter who, after losing his wife to a rare form of cancer, begins to have increasingly bizarre experiences. While driving from D.C. to Richmond, John mysteriously appears just outside the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a journey of over 400 miles that appears to have taken just over an hour. As John begins to meet the people of Pt. Pleasant, it becomes obvious that something strange is going on. Dozens of people have seen or otherwise had contact with a frightening creature that defies description. Later we are told that ancient cultures called this creature the Mothman. A few of those contacted, John included, begin to receive warnings; prophecies of horrible things to come. These predictions come true with eerie accuracy, but the big question is, does the very appearance of the Mothman spell doom for the people of Pt. Pleasant?

Supposedly based on actual events, The Mothman Prophecies plays like a beefed-up X-Files episode, though without the pat ending. It is never entirely clear which of the events are true, which are embellished, and which are just plain made up, but just the idea that this is even partially based on reality is enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. One device that is always effective in these movies is the use of the "expert" in the field, who obviously has some terrible secret and refuses to talk about it. The device is employed here, of course, and, again, I'd be interested to find out how much of the lore behind the Mothman is made up, and how much is legitimate. The movie leaves you with plenty of questions, but I guess if they answered everything, that'd kill the mystery.

The mystery is the story, and in that arena, Mothman scores a homerun. Where it falters is in it's translation from written page to big screen. The cinematography is well done, at times creating subtle, but inventive transitions from scene to scene. But when the creativity of the cameraman starts to outdistance the rest of the show, it becomes jarring and obvious. The acting and the dialogue are all fine; workable, but nothing stellar, and there are moments when it feels as though you could be in your living room instead of out for a night on the town. I equate this movie to one I saw maybe ten years ago, called Fire in the Sky. It was the supposedly true story of a man who was abducted by aliens, then returned with all these frightening half-memories that kept jumping out him in the dark. It was a pretty good movie, but it just barely made the leap past being ABC movie of the week. There's got to be something more than an intriguing story and adequate acting to make a really successful film. I suppose I shouldn't complain, though; usually the story and the plot are the last things on the filmmakers' minds.

One kudo I must give would go to Debra Messing in a very brief role as Richard Gere's doomed wife. One, she's beautiful, and not just in a perky, cutesy, "Look, I can go from TV to the movies," kind of way. She's got a strong on-screen presence that could more than handle Gere's persona. Also, she really carries the few scenes she's in, though most of her on-screen time is spent doing little more than staring. Her eyes seem almost over-large and swallow us whole everytime they appear. I foretell a Helen Hunt-like transition to the big screen for Ms. Messing.

The Mothman Prophecies is very creepy, well-written, and only adequately produced. It was worth my money, and gave us plenty of things to talk about on the way home, but I don't think I would rush out to see it again. I'm sure the Art Bell crowd will be shouting "Oscar," but I predict that most people will find this film an interesting diversion and little more. If only they could have got Gere to put on the giant moth suit. Grade: B

The Mothman Prophecies is rated PG-13 for frightening scenes.



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