The Sixth Sense
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Hollywood)

Grade: C+

Is it just me, or does Bruce Willis only seem to come alive as an actor when he's deeply anguished and/or borderline crazed? As the haunted child psychiatrist in this somber thriller about a young boy who's being haunted rather more literally, he's so blandly self-possessed that he seems to be acting under the influence of heavy tranquilizers; in retrospect, I can almost see how that might make sense, given the character that he's playing, but it still makes for a somewhat leaden viewing experience. Fortunately, Osment picks up the slack and then some, in a role that twenty-five years ago would have been handed immediately to Jodie Foster (the kid's gender isn't really important); he's the consummate pre-adolescent pro, compulsively watchable despite coming across more as a miniature, preternaturally wise adult than as a child. (Thankfully, he's given zero smart-ass dialogue, so you're not rooting for the ghosts to disembowel him.) The premise is strong enough that I had a reasonably good time in spite of the molasses-in-a-Frigidaire pace set by Willis, at least until the whole thing turned woozily therapeutic; I won't rehash the attack on Psych 101 flicks that I launched in my review of Good Will Hunting, since I can simply point you toward it, but suffice to say that the final two reels feature healin' a-plenty. Which brings us, of course, to the ending, which simultaneously improves upon and detracts from everything that's preceded it: on the one hand, it's great masochistic fun, assuming that you didn't guess what was coming, to replay the entire movie in your head and count the number of painfully obvious clues that you somehow overlooked; on the other, the twist is so thoroughly contrived that even I, who happily bought the preposterous conclusions of Arlington Road and The Game, found myself unable to reconcile its inconsistencies and contradictions.* It's clever but unsatisfying, and that'll do nicely as a description of the film itself, come to think.

* (I couldn't fit it neatly into the body of the review, but I would like to note that your acceptance/understanding of one of the film's subplots requires you to be familiar with an exceedingly strange psychological disorder called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which I confess that I was not. I wound up searching for basic info on the web after I got home, after reading a Usenet post in which the syndrome was mentioned by name; if you're as clueless as I was, you might want to look into it in advance. Don't worry, it's not much of a spoiler.)