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He's no Mulder

[Photo: Screen Gem]
John Klein, played by Richard Gere, is a tormented journalist searching for answers in The Mothman Prophecies.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2002

In The Mothman Prophecies, Richard Gere tries to lose his playboy image by becoming a confused investigator looking into reports of a supernatural being.

Richard Gere's supernatural thriller The Mothman Prophecies can rightfully be viewed with skepticism. Not just because it's about the supernatural, but because it stars Richard Gere.

Has there ever been an actor who advanced so far on so little genuine talent? Gere really isn't anything more than another pretty face, devoting more attention to his hair than to line readings. The more he emotes, the less we believe in him, which is why Gere's blankness suits the far-fetched material of The Mothman Prophecies.

Gere also seems to be experiencing all this doom and gloom for the first time, although it's a result of his acting inadequacies rather than an actor's strategy. The more preposterous things get, the more of a confused bystander he becomes. That viewpoint speaks for the audience better than the anguished playboy Gere typically tries to pass off.

John Klein, played by Richard Gere, receives a strange phone call in The Mothman Prophecies, a film about a town in West Virginia where dozens of residents claim to see a red-eyed creature dubbed Mothman because of its winged appearance.
Any expressive actor would be tempted to overdo the raised eyebrows in the face of Richard Hatem's screenplay, based on a far-reaching book by John A. Keel. The story needs a director who can plow through the implausibilities, and Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) fits the bill. The Mothman Prophecies is essentially a series of strange occurrences that don't make sense but admittedly are effective. It's a movie that credits itself for being based on true events, then makes facts inconsequential.

It's true that dozens of residents of Point Pleasant, W.Va., in the 1960s claimed to have seen a red-eyed creature dubbed Mothman because of its winged appearance. Keel was a journalist investigating the sightings, planning to write a book on UFOs. He became immersed in the case, even claiming to have received telephone calls from unknown entities including a prediction that the northeast United States would endure a massive power blackout on Christmas Eve, 1966.

The blackout didn't happen, but a bridge over the Ohio River leading to Point Peasant collapsed that night, killing 46 people, including some with Mothman connections. That was enough for Keel to believe Mothman exists as a deathsayer, leading to a dubious book.

Pellington's movie turns Keel's leap of logic into supernatural hopscotch. The Keel character, reporter John Klein, has a very personal brush with Mothman before a vague time-space continuum glitch places him in Point Pleasant. Mothman sightings abound, filmed with state-of-the-art Boggy Creek dynamics. Even the local cop (Laura Linney) begins believing; Gere needs someone equally pretty to play against.

The key word here is balderdash, but paranoid fantasies about death predictions carry an immediate sense of creepiness. Pellington maintains brisk pacing, so any plot dissections can't happen until after the show. By that time, The Mothman Prophecies hasn't merely suspended belief but has it dangling by a lock of Gere's impossibly cool hair.

The Mothman Prophecies

  • Grade: B-
  • Director: Mark Pellington
  • Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, Alan Bates
  • Screenplay: Richard Hatem, based on the book by John A. Keel
  • Rating: PG-13; scary images, profanity, brief sensuality
  • Running time: 119 min.

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