May 3, 2007

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The Invisible (PG-13)
One boy lives out the emo high schooler fantasy of seeing how everyone reacts to his death in The Invisible, a silly little ghost story that is secretly kinda smart.

Nick (Justin Chatwin) has overcome some kind of teenage predisposition toward acting up caused by the early-teen-years death of his father and is now poised to graduate and live the life his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) always dreamed he’d live. He’s not so sure that life is totally for him and so he considers a writing program in London. His best friend Pete (Chris Marquette) thinks Nick is on the plane to the land of tea and scones and therefore feels safe in giving up Nick’s name to Annie (Margarita Levieva), a pouty-tough girl. She recently robbed a jewelry store and oh-so-wisely hid the stolen goods in her locker. Any idiot could figure out that it was Annie’s too-old on-parole boyfriend who turned her in but she thinks it’s Pete, who says it’s Nick, which is fine until Annie and Nick cross paths.

Annie beats the tar out of Nick, leaving him for dead. Since Annie and her gang and Pete think Nick is dead, they display an assortment of signs of obvious guilt to the police who start to investigate the case. Nick, however, quickly learns he’s not dead. Instead of moaning in the pit where Annie threw his body, Nick is up and walking around, an apparition caught in the world between living and dead. His plan is to find a way to help people — his mom, the police, maybe even the increasingly guilt-stricken Annie — discover his body while it’s still sorta warm. Though he spends some time with his mourning mother and with his devastated friend, Nick spends most of his time with Annie, slowly wearing on her conscience by talking to her. Though none of the rest of the living with whom he spends his time can hear him, Nick comes to believe that Annie can.

Here’s the smart part of this movie: Levieva is a surprisingly skilled actress and she plays the part of someone going nuts from the bleating of the tell-tale dead kid pretty well. We see her go from a hurt, angry teenager causing trouble to a hurt, angry teenager who is also scared and so deeply sorry. That we can actually see such emotion build in a relatively unknown actress in such a throwaway movie is surprising and impressive. Her back story — loss of a mother, parental neglect and home full of constant strife — is fairly typical for this kind of movie and not particularly inventive but she uses it and the actions of the plot to craft a character out of what could have been just a one-note performance.

Which is more or less what’s wrong with the rest of the movie. Chatwin does give us a one-note performance and the actors who could have provided more heft — Harden, the John-Cusack-ish Marquette — don’t get enough to do. Large chunks of the movie depend on the separate-acting-in-the-same-scene of Chatwin and Levieva and only Levieva delivers. Chatwin acts a little too much like he’s trying out for a role on whatever’s going to replace Veronica Mars next season — he’s too smug and too flat for this spooky role.

The Invisible, in its story and its themes, has some good things to say. Too bad it doesn’t have enough actors with enough skills to deliver the message. C-

Rated PG-13 for violence, criminality, sensuality and language — all involving teens. Directed by David S. Goyer and written by Mick Davis and Christine Roum (from a novel by Mats Whal), The Invisible is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Buena Vista Pictures.