Saturday, March 17, 2007

Premonition / ** (PG-13)

Linda Hanson: Sandra Bullock
Jim Hanson: Julian McMahon
Annie: Nia Long
Joanne: Kate Nelligan
Claire: Amber Valletta
Dr. Norman Roth: Peter Stromare

MGM and TriStar Pictures present a film by Mennan Yapo. Written by Bill Kelly. Running time: 110 min. Rated PG-13 (for some violent content, disturbing images, thematic material and brief language).

It’s funny. As a film critic, I sometimes yearn for the days when I could simply watch a film and either be entertained by it or not. But I realize that while most audience members just walk into a movie like “Premonition” thinking that it looked good in the ads, I come to it with the knowledge that it has been panned by critics across the country.

At some points during “Premonition” I was actually able to recapture some of that fascination of seeing something that looked good and throughout most of the film, when I did think of what other critics might have said about it, I could understand why much of the movie going public might view critics as a bitter, complaining lot. And then I was slapped in the face by an ending so obviously telegraphed by the direction and editing that I couldn’t help but think audiences should really pay more attention to us critics.

“Premonition” is actually based on a rather interesting concept. A woman in an unspectacular marriage wakes one morning to discover that her husband has been killed in a car accident. Devastated, not so much by the loss of her love as by the destruction of their well-worn routine, she doesn’t know how to morn. The next day she wakes to discover that her husband has not been killed and nothing has changed. The day after that she finds he has indeed died, and the loved ones around her are becoming increasingly concerned with her cavalier attitude toward the tragedy. Another day later day she finds he lives again and is also becoming concerned with her strange behavior toward him.

Sandra Bullock delivers a fairly steady performance as Linda, this woman on the schizophrenic edge. She stabilizes what could be a volatile series of events. I’m not sure if this benefits the film or not. It is a safe choice for an actress who has never been one for controversy (despite her involvement in the contentious Oscar winner “Crash”.) It is nice to see Julian McMahon, as her husband Jim, released from the ridiculous confines of his most famous role as Victor von Doom in the “Fantastic Four” franchise.

Linda eventually figures out that her days as a widow and the days leading up to her husband’s death have somehow become confused. She makes a chart on which she determines exactly when her husband’s accident occurs and tries to set in motion events that will prevent the accident without disrupting the “rules” of her ailment. This sets up a series of continuity obstacles from which the film never has a chance of surviving.

There is a point in her jumbled week where she is committed to a mental facility. In actual timeline continuity this event would happen at the end of the week, although it is experienced early in her week. This situation is never resolved by the plot of the film. One of her daughters shows up one morning with her face mysteriously lacerated. This plays into the institutionalization; however, the explanation which is eventually revealed would have been clearly documented by witnesses and medical staff in a way that would negate any reason to have Linda committed.

Continuity problems aside, the true culprit in the failure of this film is director Mennan Yapo’s faith in the M. Night Shyamalan school of thriller direction. The film actually works fairly effectively until the final ten minutes, during which he gives us the Shyamalan-esque flashback montage of all the clues leading up to the climax. Since Yapo builds this montage with images that were all too obvious the first time we saw them rather than subtle ones that the audience may have missed, it acts more as an insult to our intelligence than as some form of dramatic enlightenment. He also fails to place the montage close enough to the climax, so rather than screaming at the characters on the screen to stop, the audience must wait several minutes to see what we already know is going to happen.

“Premonition” is a good example of what is wrong with so many young directors in today’s cinema. Instead of bringing their own ideas of what movie making is to their projects, directors like the German-born Yapo bring only their influences. All too many directors think an appreciation of the art of cinema is all they need to make it work. Too few have an understanding of how cinema works. Perhaps it is not the audience that needs to be educated by what critics have to say about the movies they watch. Maybe the filmmakers themselves should pay more attention to us critics.

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