Thursday, July 19, 2007
Director: Mennan Yapo
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Amber Valletta, Peter Stormare, Irene Ziegler
Running Time: 95 min.
** (out of ****)
If someone asked me to make a list of actors and actresses I'd most like to see make a huge comeback, Sandra Bullock would likely be at the top of it. She'd probably take exception to me saying that and claim that she never went anywhere, but c'mon Sandy let's be honest. You really haven't had a great starring role since Speed in 1994. It's tough to believe this is the same actress who sent my pulse racing and was so full of spunk, fire and potential in the 90's. What happened? I saw a glimmer of it again with a strong supporting turn two years ago in Crash, but after that she couldn't capitalize and I was left with false hope.
They say it's tough for actresses to find good parts when they hit 40 because of ageism in Hollywood. That's true, but there are a couple of exceptions. Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep come to mind immediately. I don't think any actress (except maybe Meg Ryan) has had as much trouble with this as Bullock, and it's not even really her fault. I think the problem with Bullock and Ryan was that their whole image was marketed around youthfulness, cuteness, and adorability. As they got older and the time came to find more mature parts they found themselves typecast. Now they're pushing too hard in the opposite direction and audiences aren't ready for it. I can't pretend to play agent but it doesn't take one to see that Bullock's role in the "psychological thriller" Premonition isn't a step in the right direction. Besides the film being incredibly silly and confusing direct-to-cable fare, she looks bored in it. Tired almost. The spark is gone. When I look at her now I don't see a movie star, which is a shame because I know there's one in there somewhere, waiting to come out. It's all about finding the right part. This is not it.
The DVD cover of Premonition promises "a gripping psychological thriller that will have you guessing from start to finish." Well, I do agree with half of that. While not gripping in the slightest, I did find myself trying to guess what was going on throughout, often with mixed results. In it Bullock plays Linda Hanson, a woman who seemingly has everything: a great husband, a beautiful house and two adorable little girls. Her world is soon turned upside down when a local sheriff shows up at her door to inform her that her husband Jim (The Fantastic Four's Julian McMahon) has just died in a horrific car accident. When she wakes up the next morning he's alive and drinking his coffee in the kitchen. She wakes up the next day and he's back to being dead again. The next morning he's alive. The next…well you get the picture.
Now I've never had a premonition or known anyone who has but something tells me it doesn't involve repeating a week over again in two different timelines. At least that's what I think was going on. I never thought I'd say this but for a better, less confusing representation of actual premonitions, rent the Final Destination films. So Linda now must fit together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to her husband's death and hopefully prevent it. Details, clues and even people show up in one timeline (where her husband is dead) and prove useful in another (when he's still alive). One of these characters happens to be one of the most incompetent psychiatrists you'll ever see in a film (played by a woefully miscast Peter Stormare). There's also a "mystery woman" (the beautiful, underused Amber Valetta) whose role in the story is so obvious I don't know why they even bothered to shroud it in secrecy. All of this plays a little like the Denzel Washington starring time travel thriller Déjà Vu from earlier in the year, minus the action or a plot that's somewhat comprehensible.
Exactly how confusing is this movie? Well, when the main character actually has to compose a chart to tell her what happens with whom and with what on which day that should tell you something. It wasn't until the final half hour of the film when I finally got a grasp on what was going on. Of course that doesn't mean any of it holds up. The saddest part of this is that when you break it down it really isn't that complicated at all. Director Mennan Yapo just chose, for reasons that may forever remain a mystery, to present it in such a way that it causes our brains to explode. How can we care about the protagonist when trying to figure out what's going on in the movie becomes our full-time job? Why couldn't he just tell the story? There's no big mystery at the center of this so it's not necessary to play games with the audience.
The screenplay also makes the terrible miscalculation of having Jim harbor secrets and plants the seed that he may not be as great a guy as Linda thought. So now we have a guy who's going to be killed who we don't even like that much. If we don't like him, then we can't feel sympathy for Linda and don't care whether she prevents his death or not. There are many laughable scenes in the film but my personal favorite is at the church when Linda demands they open the coffin to see if her husband is really dead. It's so over-the-top and ridiculously played all it does is evoke unintentional fits of laughter. There's also a silly, distracting moment in this scene that's better suited for B-movie horror comedy. I wouldn't dare spoil it for you.
Toward the end of the film, after confusing the hell out of us for an hour straight, the filmmakers actually have the nerve try to try to make important statements about life and family. I suppose the ending of the film does work story-wise, but I couldn't help but feel a little insulted at a resolution that essentially negates the movie from existing in the first place. There's an alternate ending of the film on the DVD that's so drastically different in tone from the one used it can stand as physical evidence that the director had no idea what kind of story he was trying to tell.
I don't want anyone to think that Sandra Bullock gives a bad performance in this movie because she doesn't. She's doing what's asked of her and it's a respectable performance. Unfortunately, what's asked of her is to sleepwalk through the entire film. It's not so much that she can't handle these parts it's that no one wants to see her in them. I had a similar reaction to watching Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key. I have no doubt both of them can pull off darker material, but if that material isn't strong enough they'll sink a little further than another actress because that kind of part doesn't play on their strengths. Bullock, regardless of her age, should not be starring in junk like this, but in vehicles that that showcase her large personality. In a way this part is similar to her role in last year's time travel romance The Lake House, in which she also appeared comatose throughout. That film was flawed and depressing but at least the love story clicked, the whole thing mostly made sense, and there was some chemistry between the two leads. Plus, it at least managed to give us the right ending without making us feel as if we completely wasted our time.
Premonition's premise had some potential and its opening minutes suggested the director was serious about telling an involving, straight-forward story, but then something went terribly awry the rest of the way. After seeing this and the slightly superior (but still ridiculous) Déjà Vu I'm just waiting to view Lee Tamahori's Next and see if the trifecta of nearly incompetent time travel movies for 2007 can be completed. I really hope not. Something tells me though, of the three, Premonition will be the only one that requires an instruction manual on how to watch it.