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(2003) (Halle Berry, Robert Downey, Jr.) (R)

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Horror: A penitentiary psychologist finds herself haunted by a ghost and locked up in her own institution after being accused of her husband's murder that she does not recall.
Dr. Miranda Gray (HALLE BERRY) is a staff psychologist at the Woodward Penitentiary for women where she works with inmates such as Chloe Sava (PENELOPE CRUZ) who murdered her stepfather but claims to be raped by the Devil.

After saying goodbye to her husband and boss, Doug Grey (CHARLES DUTTON), and being escorted to her car by coworker Dr. Pete Graham (ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.), Miranda learns from Sheriff Bob Ryan (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH) that the road ahead of her is closed.

Accordingly, she takes the detour, but after crossing a bridge at night in the middle of a bad storm, she nearly hits a dazed-looking teen standing in the middle of the road. When she goes to check on the girl, the ghostly looking figure suddenly bursts into flames, as does Miranda.

When she wakes up, three days have passed and she's an incarcerated inmate at the same mental ward where she works. Accused of brutally murdering her husband, Miranda has no memory of what transpired after meeting the ghostly bridge girl. She then finds herself locked up with her former patients, including Chloe, who tells her no one will believe what she says since everyone now thinks she's crazy.

Things only get worse when the ghostly bridge girl starts showing up with the message "Not Alone," and Pete, who's treating Miranda, really begins to doubt her sanity. From that point on, and as she begins to suspect all of this had something to do with the late daughter of fellow doctor Phil Parsons (BERNARD HILL), Miranda sets out to do whatever it takes to prove her sanity and get to the bottom of her husband's murder and the ghostly occurrences.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
They say that curiosity killed the cat, but I'd bet that it's done in just as many humans. By our very nature, we're inquisitive beings and that can prove to be our undoing. When not fatal, it can have disappointing results, be they of our own doing or the efforts of others who feel they must answer all of the questions, dot the I's and cross the T's.

In reference to movies, that means filmmakers who feel obligated to deliver answers or solutions to the mysteries they concoct. Sometime that's necessary (in detective stories, for instance) and sometimes it's satisfying (such as was the case in "The Sixth Sense").

In other instances, however, the result is neither satisfying nor successful. Such is the case with "Gothika," a psychological horror thriller that starts out okay, but completely unravels in the third act. That's when screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez ("Judas Kiss") and director Mathieu Kassovitz ("The Crimson Rivers," "Assassins") decided they had to come up with an answer for all of the mystery and supernatural doings they've created.

I've seen plenty of ludicrous finales in my reviewing lifetime, but this one takes the cake with its contrived, ridiculous and unbelievable conclusion and explanation for everything else that occurs.

That's not meant to imply, however, that what precedes it is logical or makes a grain of sense. For your consideration, would you believe that a criminal psychologist, who's apparently brutally murdered her husband, doesn't remember a thing and is acting insane, would be committed to the same institution where she works, incarcerated with her former patients and treated by her former coworker who has/had a crush on her?

I don't think so, and that's just one of the many illogical moments that necessitate a great deal of cranial disconnect for this offering to have half a chance of succeeding. What the film does have going for it is a palpable sense of horror style, and there are some creepy moments and fun "jump scenes" that aren't always as telegraphed as would be expected.

Considering the premise and the many apparent lapses in logic, it also plants questions in our minds about whether what we're seeing is reality or not or if there's some sort of twist-filled surprise at the end. Oh, there's a surprise all right, but it's not the kind that will generate positive word of mouth or that can forcibly remove one's socks.

I was expecting that the film would conclude with the revelation that the protagonist was a patient all along and simply imagined the early "normal" material. Then again, it could have been the same for one of her patients. Alas, neither is the case, as that would have required some degree of imagination and creativity.

Then there's the overall ghost angle that's tied in with that and comes as a bit of surprise since the effort initially appears just to be a psychological thriller-cum-detective type story. The supernatural element, though, obviously generates and delivers the spooky and creepy material.

Yet, the fact that so much of it is recycled from previous films of the same genre reduces a great deal of the scare factor. As things get progressively preposterous and dumb, that element essentially drops to zero. Had everything been a figment of someone's imagination, the various problems would have been easier to ignore or accept, but that's obviously not the case.

As far as the performances are concerned, this sort of material obviously doesn't tax anyone's acting prowess and that certainly applies to Halle Berry ("X2," "Monster's Ball") in the lead role. Yet, she's still decent in the part and certainly looks good in it, no matter how distressed and stressed she's supposed to appear. Robert Downey, Jr. ("The Singing Detective," "Wonder Boys"), however, is pretty much wasted in a role that doesn't feel fleshed out in a subplot that isn't developed fully.

Charles Dutton ("Random Hearts," "Mimic") isn't around long enough to make much of a difference, while Penelope Cruz ("Vanilla Sky," "Blow") is okay as an inmate but is forced to spout some rather awful (and unintentionally funny) dialogue.

Okay for a while but progressively worse as it unfolds, this film is proof positive that not all questions should or need to be addressed or answered to have a successful offering. "Gothika" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 17, 2003 / Posted November 21, 2003

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