The Gift

D’oh! Raimi!

A lot of folks hadn’t heard of Sam Raimi before he directed A Simple Plan, but of course he already had quite a following. There’s a huge cult of Raimi fans, which has grown in number since his first feature The Evil Dead. And then, others became fans when he produced the hit TV series Hercules¬†and Xena.

Now Raimi returns to genre filmmaking with a supernatural thriller that’s technically impressive, but is ultimately disappointing.

Cate Blanchett stars as widowed psychic Annie Wilson, trying to raise three sons in a small Louisiana bayou town. Her readings don’t sit too well with most of the redneck population, especially Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves), an Bible-thumping wife beater. Annie has been advising Donnie’s wife Valerie (Hilary Swank) to leave him, leading to threats from Donnie.

Annie has a few friends, though. Buddy Cole (Giovanni Rabisi of Saving Private Ryan) is a very disturbed young man who nevertheless tries to protect Annie. Linda (Kim Dickens of Hollow Man) tries to get her to date again, the obvious target being school principal Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear of Mystery Men). A big complication though: Wayne is engaged to society tramp Jessica King (Katie Holmes of Go, finally being allowed to show her full height on screen – along with her breasts).

Then Jessica disappears, and the desperate Sheriff Johnson (J.K. Simmons, soon to play Jonah Jameson in Raimi’s Spider-man) agrees to consult Annie on the case. Annie’s visions give her enough clues to find the body – and get Donnie arrested for Jessica’s murder. Despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence, Donnie is convicted – but when Annie’s visions continue, she’s forced to try to find the real killer.

The performances are of pretty high quality here, especially that of Blanchett. The exceptions are Ribisi, who makes Dwight Frye look reserved as a madman, and Reeves, whose Southern drawl disappears as soon as it starts to look like he’s innocent.

Raimi delivers a lot of mood, and a number of jump-in-your-seat frights, but he can’t overcome the obvious script. This is the kind of movie that has to keep ahead of an audience, and this one trails far behind once the murder mystery is underway. There’s been a recent trend the past year or so toward films with surprise endings. The Gift cannot be counted as part of that trend.

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