& & by Ed Symkus & & & &

All kinds of questions are going to come burbling up around this one, most of them just as the end credits roll and part of the audience is going, "Huh?" and another part is going, "Cool!" But even those who like it -- I did -- will be thinking back to specific events in the film to see if everything does indeed add up in the end.

This follow-up to M. Night Shyamalan's ridiculously successful The Sixth Sense takes the shape of a mystery about two very different men, both of whom have had difficult lives, both of whom have secrets. There's David Dunn (Bruce Willis), stuck in a low-rent job as a security guard at a football stadium and in the midst of very troubled times at home -- he gets along great with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark from Gladiator), but hardly speaks anymore with his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn). He plans to move away, alone, from Philadelphia to start over in New York.

And there's Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who's had a genetic disorder since birth that causes his bones to break at the slightest pressure, and has become a solitary man whose only interest is in the art and history of comic books.

They come together after David turns out to be the lone survivor in a horrendous train wreck (which the filmmakers, either out of courtesy to nervous viewers or frugality of the wallet, have happen off-camera), and Elijah, reading about the accident, tracks David down to present the theory that he might have more in common with those comic books than anyone could imagine. Of course, this sounds a little far-fetched to David, who promptly turns his back and leaves Elijah's company. But is it? How come David can't ever recall being sick? And why does he suddenly find himself able to lift more free weights than he ever has before? And, really, when he gets down to thinking about it, how could all of those people on the train with him have been killed when there isn't even a scratch on him?

While Elijah is pretty sure there can be such a thing as a superhero -- after all, legends are almost always based on some kind of reality -- David will have nothing to do with it. But that's not to say his inquisitive son won't, and the film offers up as nerve-wracking a scene as can be imagined when young Joseph tries to learn his dad's secret.

And that's just the first of many a squirmy spot. The constant back and forth between David and Elijah seems to energize the comic book aficionado and start to wear down the security guard. David's "maybes" start to become "quite possiblys," as he begins to "see" things and "feel" things going on around him, specifically when people accidentally bump into him as they pass. He can "tell" that a person has bad thoughts or that something is going to go wrong, but doesn't have a clue as to how to deal with it. The film's most frightening segment comes when he plays one of those hunches and follows a possible troublemaker home and finds something he didn't bargain for when he gets there.

Willis is good in the part, but sort of repeats what he did for Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense, drooping along and looking confused. Jackson, though, offers up something completely new by presenting a flat, one-note performance that he's perhaps too good at because he gets to be slightly annoying early on.

Shyamalan displays what some might describe as an arty approach to the look of his film with very slow, subtle zooms in and out, and cameras constantly moving back and forth and around. He also shamelessly -- and to good effect -- creates an unnerving edge with sporadic loud noises and jolting flashes of light as some of the characters jaggedly jump ahead in the frames during David's visions. And just as in his previous film, here he has everything leading up to something, then adds in a big twist.

Unfortunately, the one here comes too quickly, without enough explanation, so that much of what's come before it is diffused. And there's no doubt that some viewers are just not going to buy the ending at all.

But that's where that thinking is going to start. And any movie that forces you to go back to figure things out -- in a positive way -- instead of blatantly explaining everything as if all viewers are 12-year-olds, can't be bad. Most viewers are probably going to say, "Cool!"

50th Odessa Deutschesfest @ Odessa

Sat., Sept. 18, 7-1 a.m. and Sun., Sept. 19, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
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