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Review: 'Sixth Sense' takes time delivering thrills

August 5, 1999
Web posted at: 3:54 p.m. EDT (1954 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- It's summertime and Bruce Willis is back on the big screen. But this time, he's not in a huge, spectacular, high-budget action flick. There are no torn T-shirts, carefully placed grease marks or fake sweat in his current film. Instead, he's chosen to star in a dark and murky psychological thriller called "The Sixth Sense."

There's an old adage when it comes to basic storytelling. If you grab your audience's attention at the beginning and hook them into the story -- and then provide a memorable and exciting ending -- you can be forgiven for a lot of less-then-thrilling material in between. "The Sixth Sense" is a case in point.

Willis plays child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe. At the beginning of the film, he and his wife Anna, played by Olivia Williams, are celebrating an award he's received for his work with children. One of those troubled children -- all grown up now and played by a totally unrecognizable Donnie Wahlberg -- appears out of nowhere, shoots the good doctor in revenge for not being cured and then turns the gun on himself.

Theatrical preview for "The Sixth Sense"
Windows Media 28K 80K

Bang! We flash forward to the following autumn.

Now apparently on the road to recovery, a still-shaken Crowe is given the case of a extremely troubled 8-year-old named Cole Sear, played with exceptional talent by 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment. It seems young Cole is seeing and hearing ghosts -- while both asleep and awake -- and he lives in fear that others will find out about his terrifying secret.

Scaring up some publicity

The fact that Cole is being hounded by dead people isn't completely revealed until halfway through the film, but the trailer for the film -- seen in theaters for months -- already has given up the ghost, so to speak, by making it clear that the kid's spooked by spooks. This revelation of major plot points in trailers and television commercials is becoming an annoying fact of life in Hollywood.

After Cole finally confides in Willis, they try to discover the truth about his visions. Their search throws them both into a waking nightmare with harrowing consequences and a stunning conclusion.

This is the second directorial effort by M. Night Shyamalan, who also wrote the script. For the most part, "The Sixth Sense" is crafted fairly well in terms of mood and production design. But ultimately it's a slow-moving story about the paranormal. It's also a lot less scary than it could be.

But this film primarily is all about Osment, who gives an outstanding performance as the centerpiece of the movie. He's been acting since the age of 5 and audiences may remember him from five years ago when he appeared as the title character's son at the end of "Forrest Gump." Without him, this film would be far less compelling.

Willis turns in a measured and understated performance. And Toni Collette -- who played the title role in the 1994 Australian film "Muriel's Wedding" -- is believable as the boy's confused and frightened mother, although her character offers her a limited range of emotion.

"The Sixth Sense" may be worth seeing for many, if only for its surprise ending. It's a finale that could make you think long and hard about death and an afterlife.

"The Sixth Sense" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images. 114 minutes.

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Official 'The Sixth Sense' site
Buena Vista Pictures
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