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In this episode: The Sixth Sense | Inspector Gadget
Okay, I may work at Disney, but that doesn't mean I'm being forced to see movies released exclusively by them. It just so happens that this time both of the movies here are Disney ones. However, I can not think of a better juxtaposition of Disney-released films than this. One is the usual noisy, frenetic fluff, the other is a dark, shocking, moving film.

Let's start with the latter.

 

THE SIXTH SENSE

Sven went to film school with this guy, this guy being M. Night Shyamalan, the director and writer. From the tale Sven told, I was hoping to not like this movie very much. Well, it's a great movie. I say great with some hesitation, because it is a word that is so often overused it hurts. But I think, considering my reaction to the movie, the superb acting by all three of the movie's stars, the story, and the ending, I will call this one great.

One thing I don't want to do is ruin anything for you, so I will be very vague. But do yourself a favor: Please, please, PLEASE be careful to not read anything about the movie before you see it! I was so happy that I knew next to nothing about it because it made the ending more shocking and enjoyable than it would have been had I known. Just be careful and go see this movie as soon as possible.

The Sixth Sense wasn't even on my radar screens to see. Thanks to the buzz the movie's been getting (you can feel buzz even without reading or hearing a scrap of media puffle), and thanks to the movie being sold out constantly and only dropping 2% from week one to week two—an impressive feat for a wide-release movie—I decided it was suddenly a big blip.

I haven't cried in a movie in a long, long time. Maybe I'm emotionally unstable right now, or perhaps I have caught a strain of Wussy Virus. Whatever. I think I'll blame two things. First is Shyamalan, plagiarist that he may be (not for this movie... I don't think!), for creating such a dense, palpable world. Second is Haley Joel Osment, for being such a brilliant young actor.

Haley is astounding. I haven't seen a kid act like this since Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, and he was already 13. Haley is 10 or 11. (Oscar winner Anna Paquin was very good, too, but not on this level.) In every scene, Haley is fantastic. In his scenes with Bruce Willis, he's even better. Numbingly good. It's a tall order, expecting a kid to portray someone who is burdened by a combination of what he sees and his not being able to share his visions. In movies like this, the emotion of the plot is often hampered by the limitations of the young actor. It is something we come to expect, and we adjust accordingly. Okay, so now when you see a movie like The Sixth Sense, where everything the kid says and does is absolutely believable, the boundaries of film and story melt away and you are truly transported. This was not some moppet acting like he was mortally frightened, this was a kid who was mortally frightened! What he sees is real, what he feels is real, what he shares with Bruce is real. I tell ya, it was something to behold.

Makes me weep that this kid wasn't considered for Anakin.

[NOTE: While the presence of a very good child actor in the role of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars I would have improved the movie, it would have done so only marginally. The greatest improvement to that movie, of course, would have been made by replacing Jar Jar Binks with anyone or anything else. A wookie. Martin Short. Tyne Daly. A giant can of Surge. Stone Cold Steve Austin. A freshly-emptied port-a-potty. ANYTHING.]

The kid was all that.

Bruce Willis holds up very well, too. I have never not liked Bruce, though I did let the taint of his bad movies rub off on him in my psyche. Granted, he can be limited in his range, but give him something to work with and the guy comes up roses. Because The Sixth Sense does offer something to work with—an interesting story that is both scary and moving—Bruce goes all out. His best moments are with Haley, just as Haley's are with Bruce. The two actors play off each other with a quiet yet strong perfection. I believe Bruce was almost forced to give a better performance because of Haley's strength. Just as the audience watches the kid and is taken with him, Bruce could not have been acting beside this kid without feeling Haley's power and realism. This symbiotic acting is a strong anchor for the movie.

The other oomphatic performance comes from Toni Collette. Her performance in Muriel's Wedding was amazing, and she does nothing less with her role here as Cole's (Haley) mom. Her character is complex and important, and Toni is right up there with Haley and Bruce. Toni is good at morphing into different types, and she does another morph here as a Philadelphia mom, not exactly the model of style and tact but definitely a committed mother. This is much different from her homely, overweight but eventually triumphant and sympathetic Muriel. She also played very different types in Cosi and Emma. I'm so glad she's getting more mainstream exposure from The Sixth Sense. I hope the movie industry does good by her.

The pace of the movie was a little slow, but I never found it to be boring. It was certainly quicker than Eyes Wide Shut! I was constantly interested in Cole and his unfortunate situation. Since the movie deals with the afterlife (that's not giving anything away), the pace sort of buttresses the theme. The revelations are served up at perfect moments. The final revelation elicited an audience-wide gasp. It was a moment I have not felt in a movie in years and years, where you get thrown a curve and your love for the movie immediately grows two-fold for it. But no more on that. You have to see it to know what I mean.

I really can't think of anything more to say that may be relevant while not ruining the movie for you. Go see it. Absolutely. It is definitely one of my favorites this year, maybe of any year, though I should watch it again before claiming that.

 

 

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INSPECTOR GADGET

I did not pay to see this! Don't worry! It was an employee screening thing! It is definitely on the opposite and of the spectrum from The Sixth Sense. While I was amazed The Sixth Sense was a Disney film, I was completely not amazed that Inspector Gadget was a Disney film. (I speak of Disney live action, not animation. Disney live action tends to be creatively inbred juvenile slop or explosion-happy mind deadener. The occasional good movie comes out of it all, but in general...)

Inspector Gadget surprised me a little. It was not as bad as I was expecting. Matthew Broderick is charming in his anti-Ferris Bueller way, and Rupert Everett doesn't just chew the scenery, he chops it up into a salad, adds a bit of vinaigrette dressing and some lightly-seasoned croutons, then snarfs it down in an enormous orgy of mastication—without using utensils. He's funny. There is also a very funny Mayor character played by Cheri Oteri (from SNL and as the funny flight attendant from an expurgated scene in the first Austin Powers). Everyone else is good, which is nice.

The movie has a strange, half-hearted pop-cultural aura about it. There are references in the movie to other movies (the most subtle and arguably non-existent being an allusion to Fargo as Claw's henchman tries to dispose of evidence by shoving a foot down the toilet), and the movie has a very wink-wink attitude about its own existence. Some of this is amusing, some of it completely inconsequential to the movie as entertainment.

The worst part of this film, besides the annoying Gadget Mobile as voiced by D. L. Hughley (no mentionable credits to put in parentheses) (haunting visions of Jar Jar were constantly jing-jangling around my consciousness!), was the brain-bashingly blatant product placements. Two examples:

—A giant Yahoo! billboard falls on Claw's limousine, trapping him. As the billboard starts to fall, it takes up the entire movie screen—"Do You Yahoo?"—and the twangy Yahoo! cowboy song monopolizes the soundtrack. Worse, after the billboard has fallen, the pre-Gadget John Brown (Matthew) shouts through a bullhorn, "You, under the Yahoo! billboard. Come out with your hands up!"

—The Gadget Mobile comes complete with a soda and snack dispenser. Sodas include, quite obviously thanks to big buttons on the dash board, Coke, Sprite, and Surge. One of the snack buttons is labeled "Skittles." At one point in the movie, quite needlessly, Brenda Bradford (played by Joely Fisher) pushes the button and colorful Skittles fall into her hand. Near the end of the flick, the Jar Jar Mobile crashes. When Joely opens the door to get out of the car, the car is filled with uncountable thousands of Skittles, which cascade to the asphalt. Worse again, the car says, "Well, I guess you could say I got the Skittles knocked out of me!"

There was more. Oh, and it was so painful. What I did like, though, was that Yahoo! was chosen to be on the board instead of Go, a now-fully-owned Disney entity. The mysteries of corporate synergy vs. product placement baffle the human mind.

The movie is completely harmless, and I'm sure it's amusing for the kiddies. It's not so much a movie as it is a strategic marketing plan. If you enjoy strategic marketing plans that don't include the Force or Jedi Nights, feel free to waste some time with Inspector Gadget. Or don't. Yahoo!, Coke, and Disney won't go belly-up if you make yourself absent from this hollow chocolate bunny of a movie.

So there's the deal: an excellent Disney movie that is so not-Disney it worries me, and a vaporous Disney movie that is so very Disney it worries me. Which should you see? Duh.

 

—Steve

8/18/99

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©1999 Steven Lekowicz except:
The Sixth Sense photo © Spyglass Entertainment Group L.P. All rights reserved.
Inspector Gadget photo © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights Reserved.