by Jeff Meyers
"If it's the Sphinx, it stinks." This, of course, refers to the logo that graces Hollywood Pictures. Champions of such filmic gems as Encino Man, Super Mario Brothers, An American Werewolf in Paris and Swing Kids, the Disney sub-studio spent much of the '90s producing a staggering list of cinematic dreck. To be fair, there were a few distinguished releases (The Sixth Sense and Quiz Show, to name two) but if The Invisible is any indication of their plans for the new millennium, those successes were a brief respite from an allergy to quality.
A remake of a 2002 Swedish thriller, this Dawson's Creek meets Ghost melodrama sneaks into theaters the week before Spider-man 3 and surprise, surprise unscreened by critics. It's pretty clear the studio has little faith in recouping its investment and one can only assume it was put into production as a favor to director David Goyer, one of Hollywood's top screenwriters. Though Ann Arbor's native son may have a knack for goth-action scripts he penned Batman Begins, Blade and the super nifty sci-fi Dark City his skills behind the camera leave a little something to be desired.
Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) is a sensitive rich kid who runs afoul of high school bad-girl Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) and ends up beaten and left for dead in a sewer drain. Caught between life and death, Nick is invisible, unable to interact with those around him. Or can he? As the clock counts down to his final demise, the mopey teen struggles to reach his would-be killer and convince her to save his life.
Unable to decide whether it's a supernatural suspense or an otherworldly love story, The Invisible, like its injured protagonist, barely has a pulse, even though Goyer fills the screen with moody camerawork, lush settings and generic movie moments. Drenched in earnest pop-rock, the effort plays more like a sulky music video than a full-fledged thriller. Why have Nick or Annie say anything revealing or meaningful when we can play this bitchin' tune by A Perfect Circle?
The script, which had the potential to forge an interesting teen Twilight Zone vibe, is muddled, illogical and dramatically inert. Despite its paranormal affectations, it has no interest in scaring us and we already know who tried to kill Nick, so there's no mystery to be solved. Screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum struggle to give their story relevance by suggesting Nick and Annie were lost souls before the supernatural stuff kicked in, but the characters are so empty and whiny we just don't care. Essentially they've written an after-school special for kids who are into emo-rock.
The cast is filled with unknowns destined for supporting roles on TV. Chatwin, who played Tom Cruise's son in War of the Worlds, is appropriately sullen but hardly memorable. Levieva, dressed in a black wool hat and hoodie, is Disney's version of a teen on the edge. Even Marcia Gay Harden sleepwalks through her thankless role as Nick's mom, barely mustering enough energy for her predictable breakdown.
Even though The Invisible fails on just about every level, it moves quickly enough to keep from being truly awful. Small consolation when you've got a title that's tailor-made for snide critical remarks like: "Disappearing soon from a theater near you."
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.