The Gift (2000)

THE GIFT is the second (only the second?) collaboration of director 
Sam Raimi with actor Billy Bob Thornton, who appeared in Raimi's ov-
errated 1998 thriller A SIMPLE GIFT and, here, co-wrote the screen-
play to this overlong, under-smart, and suitable colorful Swamp-set, 
Southern Gothic starring that lovely chameleon Cate Blanchett.  She 
plays a small-town soothsayer (and, yawn, struggling single mother 
to three young 'uns) involved in the search for a missing young wo-
man, while also dealing with the stalking husband (a grizzled-look-
ing Keanu Reeves) of a wife-abused client (Hilary Swank) and while 
*also* dealing with some freaky "visions" she keeps seeing.  Er, 
Raimi doesn't dive right into the boys-let's-start-draggin'-the-pond 
stuff.  Instead, he takes a big ol' chunk o' time to savor the ex-
pectedly colorful (if overly-exaggerated) atmosphere of angry red-
necks, cooing country-club sex kittens, and drawled declarations of 
so-called Christian values.  Plus one very twitchy Giovanni Ribisi 
as a disturbed, mush-mouthed mechanic, dear friend to the main char-
acter, and the only male in town with what looks like dyed red hair.
(Maybe he's "slow in the head" 'cause he gets beat-up a lot?)  A 
seasoned spook-master from his EVIL DEAD days, the director also 
knows how to give a good goosing *and* when the audience least ex-
pects it!  So, you'll jump.  And be taunted by at least one obliga-
tory fake-out.  

Blanchett does a lighter weight turn here.  Oh, she looks good 'n' 
sad, though not *quite* as haunted as perhaps she's supposed to.  A 
bigger problem is that the actress exudes *way* more intelligence 
than her character does.  Or is written as having.  Among the many  
head-scratchers is the fortune teller's inexplicable withholding of  
missing-person information that any rational person would blurt out 
in a second.  In fact, it's such an annoying script defect that I 
wouldn't be surprised to see people walkout in frustration!  Still, 
that said, and admittedly, Ms. Cate's as comfortable a presence as 
they come.  

The supporting cast is equally appealing and includes the aforemen-
tioned Mr. Reeves, Mr. Ribisi, and Ms. Swank, plus appearances by or 
major roles for Gary "Creepy" Cole, Michael "Quirky" Jeter, and Ka-
tie "Teen Queen" Holmes, as-- get this-- fiance to... Greg Kinnear!  
And with Kinnear cast as a school principal!!  Calm down, it plays 
more believable than it sounds.  So hold your howls.  And the ac-
tress gets topless toward the end, so there's that.  And Kinnear 
even gets to slug Keanu once, so there's *more* than a couple things 
here thatcha may not see again!  (Good luck, too, seeing a repeat of 
Ms. Swank's country-style wife.  With her big hair and bigger lips, 
the Oscar-winning gender-bender looks like a white-trashier take on 
Julia Roberts' Erin Brockovich!)

Alas and ultimately, the takes-forever-to-end film isn't clearly 
compelling as either a character study or a mystic-flavored whodunit 
or even a Southern exploration of All Things Psychic.  Nope, 'taint 
a winner.  There *is* a fun, outburst-filled courtroom seqeuence to-
ward the end!  And a little, "deuce ex-my-ass ma-china"-esque sur-
prise after *that*!!  Dial 1-900-WAIT-AND-RENT-THE-VIDEO now.  With 
Tom Epperson receiving the other half of screenwriting credit.  Bil-
ly Bob and his occasional partner-in-ink previously put their heads 
together on A FAMILY PLACE and ONE FALSE MOVE, among others.  (Rated 
"R"/111 min.)

Grade: C

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros