DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Cortés | WRITER: Rodrigo Cortés | CAST: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, Elizabeth Olsen, Craig Roberts, Leonardo Sbaraglia | USA
Every great once in a while I force myself to watch a movie dealing with ESP, telepathy, telekinesis — the paranormal in general — just to remind myself why I dislike the genre so much. Red Lights performed that role perfectly. The title is shorthand for the little things you normally wouldn’t notice — in a crowd of people it might be someone taking notes, someone else with an ear piece, or the red light of camera where you wouldn’t expect it — which, in the case of this movie, are the giveaways that a self-proclaimed psychic is not what he says he is. Sigourney Weaver plays a psychology professor who’s made a career out of unmasking frauds and finding rational explanations for allegedly paranormal phenomena. She is aided in her endeavors by a youngish physicist, Cillian Murphy, but it’s an indication of how badly written the screenplay is that even though you’re led to believe they’ve been partners for years, she has to stop the action every now and then to describe to him her life’s work and how she got started in it and to ask him why he’s helping her instead of getting on with his own life and professional career. Their unmasking of a faith healer for the fraud he is at the beginning of the film is just a warm up for the main prize: a renowned psychic/faith healer/wizard named Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind rock star of the paranormal who retired 35 years earlier because his main critic died mysteriously while attending one of his performances. Silver comes out of retirement suddenly (why is not made clear) to huge excitement, the young physicist is chomping at the bit to unmask him but the professional unmasker is curiously and adamantly not interested, and we’re off and running.
Sigourney Weaver has a couple of good moments but essentially gives one of her patented one-dimensional performances, Robert De Niro isn’t even trying, Cillian Murphy is generic and memorable only for the size and color of his eyes (huge and blue), and now that I’ve seen an Olsen in a film — Elizabeth; bad acting even by bad television standards — I can cross the Olsen Twins off my list. Joely Richardson, however, does a terrific job as Simon Silver’s vaguely amused, vaguely sinister manager, and Leonardo Sbaraglia is just terrific. He’s also really good as the fraudulent faith healer. (This is Sbaraglia’s Hollywood film debut.) I wish I could say Rodrigo Cortés is a better director than screenwriter, but he’s not: the film is cliché-ridden, derivative, prefabricated nonsense with a “suprise” jolt 10 minutes from the end that I knew was coming for an hour and a half already, and a shockeroo, who-saw-that-coming? ending that was a cheat the first time it was done (yes, we all see dead people) and here is made worse by a quick montage of previous scenes so we don’t have to bother trying to put the pieces together from our memories — or bother seeing the movie again — to make sense of what we’ve just wasted two hours watching.