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Movie review, 'The Mothman Prophecies'

EntertainmentMoviesAlan BatesDebra MessingLaura LinneyWill PattonRichard Gere

"The Mothman Prophecies" is a gaudy yet grim science-fiction horror movie of such surpassing silliness, humorless intensity and stylistic overkill that watching it may actually put you in a state of paranoia. Why are these moviemakers persecuting us?

In the movie, directed by Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road") and based on John Keel's 1975 book, Richard Gere stoically plays John Klein, a star Washington Post reporter whose wife, Mary (Debra Messing), dies of cancer after a mysterious car accident. Two years later, John starts investigating bizarre paranormal incidents in Point Pleasant, W.Va. - after losing his way while driving to an interview in Richmond with Virginia's governor, a presidential candidate. Winding up, mysteriously, 400 miles off course, in Point Pleasant, Klein discovers that the residents have been plagued by strange incidents and sightings of a moth-like man - a being who resembles the drawings of winged monsters left in his dying wife's journal.

Klein decides to blow off the interview and stay in Point Pleasant, without explaining anything to his editors. Soon he is swapping stories with Police Sgt. Connie Parker (Laura Linney), getting nuisance calls from strange beings and watching local resident Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton) grow more unshaven and crazy. On a side trip to Chicago, Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), a writer about the paranormal, informs him that dark forces surround them. It's obvious that disaster looms. You can see it in the movie's murky tilted camera angles and hear it in the dissonant music score. "The Mothman Prophecies" looks like a rock-video episode of "Twilight Zone" or "The X-Files" under ether.

Absurdly, this movie claims to be based on true events - although "John Klein" is a concoction, and the only "true event" in the movie is the disaster portrayed in the film's climactic scene. The so-called mothman sightings in Point Pleasant took place back in 1966 and '67. But while many residents also described repeated sightings of strange little Oriental dwarfs in black suits, driving black Cadillacs and behaving obnoxiously, the movie makes no attempt to re-create them. Crucially, there were no prophecies. (That word was added to Keel's title by an editor because he liked the sound.)

Even less believable than the movie's horror story is its portrayal of the curious leniency of the Post editors to their star reporter's truancy. And more absurd than that is the notion that anything that happens in this film is possible or entertaining.

1 1/2 stars
"The Mothman Prophecies"
Directed by Mark Pellington; written by Richard Hatem, based on the book by John A. Keel; photographed by Fred Murphy; edited by Brian Berdan; production designed by Richard Hoover; music by Tomandandy; special effects supervisor Peter Chesney; produced by Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Gary Goldstein. A Screen Gems/Lakeshore Entertainment release; opens Friday, Jan. 25. Running time: 1:59. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for terror, some sexuality and language).

John Klein - Richard Gere
Connie Parker - Laura Linney
Dr. Alexander Leek - Alan Bates
Gordon Smallwood - Will Patton
Denise Smallwood - Lucinda Jenney Mary Klein - Debra Messing

Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune movie critic.

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