Picks and Pans Review: The Village

UPDATED 08/16/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/16/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver

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Memo to M. Night Shyamalan: Enough with interviewers and critics comparing you to Hitchcock. The only thing you and the master of suspense share is a propensity for making cameos in your own movies.

Your latest, The Village, reveals that you're stuck in a rut as a writer and director. From The Sixth Sense through Signs, your films rely on the Big Twist, that moment when you pull the rug out from under viewers. The problem is that the underwhelming surprise in Village can be guessed early on, and when it does come, the movie, though involving enough up to that point, deflates faster than a punctured tire.

The film is set in an isolated 19th-century village where town elders warn residents to stay out of the woods because fearsome creatures lurk there. This may be a post-9/11 allegory about the lengths one goes to to protect loved ones and country, but it plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone with an inflated budget. As a thinker, you're dime-store deep.

What works? Howard (the daughter of director Ron) impresses with a confident performance as the blind heroine. There are also strong portrayals by Phoenix, Weaver and William Hurt. But how did you ever talk Brody into playing the babbling Village idiot? Good for your marquee, bad for his career. (PG-13)

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