Damon’s Psychic Fancies Dickens; Mirren’s Killer Agent: Movies

Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” opens with a heart-stopping scene: A tsunami crashes into an Indonesian resort town, engulfing terrified tourists and residents as they run for their lives. A Frenchwoman is dragged underwater and knocked unconscious.

Then we’re conked with three alternating stories -- the French TV journalist who miraculously survives the disaster, a San Francisco construction worker with psychic powers that allow him to talk to the dead, and a London boy whose twin brother is fatally struck by a car. By the time the characters intersect -- in a seriously strained way --“Hereafter” is on life support.

Even Matt Damon’s star power can’t rescue this earnest drama. As the Dickens-loving psychic George, he’s so low-key that you expect him to nod off in the middle of a sentence. With his puffed-up face and doughy body, Damon also looks like he’s been sampling too much at the cooking class where George meets a woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) with her own dark secret.

Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) never figure out how to mesh these disparate stories into a comprehensible film. When George grasps someone’s hands at the start of a seance, his vision of the deceased is bathed in a white blur. Similarly, the ill-defined characters wander around pondering the afterlife.

Quack Psychics

The strongest section involves Marcus, who tries to communicate with his dead brother (the two are played by real twins, George and Frankie McLaren), only to encounter a bunch of quack psychics whose real talent is fleecing grieving customers.

Journalist Marie (Cecile de France) goes into a downward spiral after she and her boyfriend escape the tsunami. She visits an afterlife researcher at a hospice in the Alps and writes a memoir about her near-death experience. Marie promotes the book in London, where the three main characters improbably cross paths.

If there is an afterlife, I hope it’s livelier than this.

“Hereafter,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *1/2

‘Red’

The Queen fires a mean submachine gun.

Helen Mirren, the classy British actress who won an Oscar for her title role in “The Queen,” plays a cunning assassin in “Red,” a spy spoof about a group of aging CIA agents who come out of retirement and uncover a nefarious murder plot involving the U.S. vice president.

Along with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich, Mirren is targeted by a hit squad sanctioned by the CIA and a dirty government contractor (Richard Dreyfuss), who’s trying to cover up some messy business that took place in Guatemala decades earlier. Bullets fly, bombs explode and Willis dispatches one bad guy with a lethal chop to the neck.

The tongue-in-cheek style befits a film based on a comic- book series.

Willis is preternaturally calm in the midst of mayhem, and Malkovich displays the acute paranoia of someone who took thousands of acid trips as an unwitting government guinea pig.

Mary-Louise Parker adds to the deadpan humor as a casual acquaintance of Willis’s who gets ensnared in his bizarre world, while Brian Cox plays a Russian spy whose onetime romance with Mirren included some near fatal gunplay. A cameo by 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine reminds us that Lieutenant McHale is still very much alive.

“Red,” directed by Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”), has some funny moments -- just not enough of them -- and the cartoonish violence sometimes overwhelms the flippant tone.

“Red,” from Summit Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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