Review: Red Lights – Sleight of bland

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Red Lights PosterSigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy channel Scully & Mulder of The X-Files in the new film Red Lights, a movie about professional skeptics out to debunk the world’s most renowned psychic. With an intriguing trailer and an incredibly talented cast that also includes Robert De Niro, I ‘wanted to believe’ that this movie was going to be fantastic, but it turned out to be just sleight of bland.

Red Lights gets off to a great start with creepy and quirky characters Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Murphy) investigating a haunted house and a hairdresser/psychic medium who is holding a seance to connect with the spirits behind the home’s spooky happenings.  The ‘don’t-believe everything-you-see’ tone of the film is set early on and elicits enough curiosity to carry the film until its antagonist is introduced.

Enter DeNiro as the film’s famous mentalist, Simon Silver, a celebrated psychic who is blind and has been retired for decades, since an investigative naysayer dropped dead of a heart attack at his last show. The movie leads you to believe that Simon Silver brought on this man’s death using his mental abilities, but Matheson and Buckley are skeptical, and for good reason – as I didn’t believe DeNiro’s performance either.

Dr. Matheson refuses to investigate Silver (for various – mostly unspoken reasons), so Buckley takes matters into his own hands when the psychic comes to town for an event. But Buckley’s investigation is uncovered by Silver and crazy otherworldly things begin happening to him and his partner as they become closer to the truth.

Red LightsThe truth is that Red Lights is an entertainingly eccentric film until Robert De Niro enters the picture. I’m a huge DeNiro fan and although he is undeniably an actor if significant talent, there are some parts he should not play – it turns out that a blind psychic is at the top of that list.

De Niro’s Simon Silver is cartoonish and preposterous and never believable for a minute. This is a problem when the premise of the movie revolves around this character eliciting shock & awe at his amazing mental feats. De Niro is too well known for roles as a bruiser and a mob-boss to convincingly pull off the portrayal of this supercilious charlatan with a legion of blind followers.

As much as de Niro was the wrong man for his role, Weaver and Murphy are perfect in their parts as the psychic investigators. Weaver’s character oozes exotic experience and there is obviously nothing she hasn’t seen before, while Murphy is wide-eyed, intense and just slightly unbalanced.

Red LightsMy favorite scene in this film is one of its first, when on a car trip Murphy’s character wakes up Weaver’s Dr. Matheson, just to tell her she should get some sleep. Unfortunately, by the last hour of the movie that cool off-kilter quality turns into run-of-the-mill melodrama. The last scene of the movie is one of those love or hate climaxes; and although I liked the way Red Lights ended, it really lost my interest long before that.

This film was written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés (Buried), a Spanish filmmaker who many consider to be following in the footsteps of Hitchcock and Shyamalan (let’s hope M. Night’s earlier work only). He certainly has potential, but needs to focus on casting in his next effort. Big names like DeNiro’s can be a curse as well as a credit to a movie because they come with so many preconceived expectations.

I’ve never understood why people with alleged psychokinetic abilities choose to just bend spoons with their minds. It seems like if you could really perform this feat, you’d use it on something cool. Red Lights suffers from this same absurdity, in that it promises something really incredible, but in the end is only mildly amusing.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

1 Comment

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  • The way you describe the movie’s premise really makes me want to see this, but I can’t help but be disappointed to read that DeNiro is the worst part of it all. I rarely head to the theaters anymore because it’s painful to pay for such a costly ticket, only to end up hating the movie. To save money, I watch all of my movies through Blockbuster @Home, and I’ve recently been watching several DeNiro flicks. I just finished The Fan, and I was impressed with DeNiro and Wesley Snipes’ acting. I’ll definitely add Red Lights to my queue, but I appreciate the heads up on his performance. It doesn’t sting as bad when you know that a particular performance isn’t going to be up to par.