Film Unbreakable cracks in the end

BRUCE KIRKLAND

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET

Unbreakable, the latest from The Sixth Sense creator M. Night Shyamalan, begins with so much promise and ends with such frustrating results.

And it's not just because it fails to live up to the incredible expectations put in play by the box-office success and Oscar hype Shyamalan enjoyed with The Sixth Sense.

Unbreakable itself generates its own expectations through its impressively fresh premise and the innovative casting of Bruce Willis, Robin Wright Penn and Samuel L. Jackson.

Then it frustrates us in its final act. Shyamalan sells out, ends his movie abruptly and cheats the audience.

The premise: Willis plays a former college football star who now works as a stadium security guard. We meet him on a train just before it crashes, killing all on board -- except him.

It turns out, as the title suggests, that our hero is literally unbreakable. He never has been sick nor suffered a broken bone. He emerges unscathed from the killer train wreck.

Meanwhile, his heart is breaking. His marriage to his childhood sweetheart (Wright Penn) has slid into oblivion. His connection to his son (Spencer Treat Clark) is tenuous.

Everything will change when a comic-book art dealer (Jackson) approaches him with the fantastical notion that Willis possesses a superhero's powers, just like a character in one of the comic books Jackson has read since he was a kid.

Upping the stakes for Jackson is his near-fatal flaw -- he is totally breakable. Kids used to call him Mr. Glass. As an adult, he can snap bones simply by tripping. His only strength is a superbly agile mind. He uses it to try to persuade Willis -- whom he read about in the newspapers -- that he possesses a unique gift that should be analyzed.

Through their relationship, the film explores the extremes of human physicality and what that does to the individual on either end of this spectrum. Unbreakable is ambitious.

Marvellous detail is layered in. In Willis' case, we see his fragile relationship with his wife put into perspective in a heart-wrenching scene where they discuss starting over. In Jackson's case, we see him protect the integrity of the artistic creations in his gallery. His fragility is purely physical.

Shyamalan, the writer-director as well as a co-producer, explores this complex world with a slightly supernatural twist, just as he did in The Sixth Sense (although Willis is alive this time and has the extra-sensory talents, albeit undeveloped).

The extremes between the two chief protagonists -- Willis and Jackson -- are discussed with comic-book references. But we are reminded constantly about how much more ambiguous and complex the real world is compared to comics.

Then Shyamalan turns the final act into a comic book. It's an empty gesture that ruins the film. It is a cheap plot device that might as well be reduced to a drawing, put in a box and printed on pulp paper. The film ends shattered and broken.

(This film is rated PG)


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