Sadly, the answer is neither, though an overexcited populace spoon-fed on a year's worth of hype is likely to lean toward the latter owing to severe disappointment. It's hard to blame them.
This time out we're back to gloomy Philadelphia in a story about one David Dunne (Bruce Willis), a security guard who wakes up after a catastrophic train wreck to discover he is the sole survivor of the crash, with nary a scratch on his body. The next day David finds a cryptic note on his windshield, leading him to the Biblically-inspired Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book dealer with a fragile bone disease that has crippled him. Elijah tries to convince David that he is possessed of superhuman strength and is, as the title suggests, "unbreakable."
David pooh-poohs the idea, but slowly he begins to accept the possibility that, yes, he can't be hurt, but he can lose his hair. Will Bruce become our first major superhero with male pattern baldness?
At this point, Unbreakable had me (and likely everyone else) wondering if I was in the right movie. From the trailers and the advance press, wasn't this supposed to be some kind of metaphysical exploration of the meaning of life and death, about how a man learned some secret of the universe that's eluded us for all these years, perhaps, all due to a fluke train crash? What the hell, we ask, is all this superhero crap?
Putting the story aside for a moment, Unbreakable is extremely competent in the hands of its crew, coming together on a slow burn as bit by bit of the story is revealed, just like in The Sixth Sense. Sure, it's a little overindulgent, as every other scene is photographed upside-down, reflected in a TV, or some other such trickery, but it keeps you interested in watching (and the superhero zaniness may incline you otherwise).
And just as you're about to get sucked in, there goes Jackson, being forced as if at knifepoint to utter lines like, "It's like your kryptonite," with total seriousness. The mind begins to reel. The movie begins to suffer. And even a now-trademark M. Night Big Plot Twist At The End won't change your mind. (Overheard from one Disney publicist during the screening: "It's one of those movies that grows on you." We'll see.)
Ultimately, Unbreakable is an extremely charming and well-produced film about something that's so silly and unbelievable it makes you wonder why people went to all the trouble to put it together. But ironically, Unbreakable could have worked extremely well as a real superhero movie. Say you change the title to The Protector and make it the story of a regular guy who suddenly finds out he's a superhero, and get rid of all the overwrought train crashes and such.
Or better yet, make it a movie called Unbreakable, and it's about a guy who learns the meaning of life and death... some secret of the universe that's eluded us for all these years.
After a second viewing of its two-disc DVD release, Unbreakable is a bit more charming and just barely worthwhile. Shyamalan's studding of the plot with little hints is exposed as truly clever on the repeat viewing, just like with The Sixth Sense, but the hokey lines and far-fetched plot points don't improve the second time out. About half an hour of extra, deleted scenes are mostly throwaways, but it's the uber-geeky featurette about "Comic Books and Superheroes" that makes it all too clear what audience Unbreakable is directed at.
Might as well be walkin' on the sun.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 22nd November 2000
Box Office USA: $92.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $95M
Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures, Limited Edition Productions Inc., Blinding Edge Pictures, Barry Mendel Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis as David Dunn, Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, Robin Wright as Audrey Dunn, Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn, John Patrick Amedori as Hostage Boy, Chance Kelly as Orange Suit Man
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