M. Night Shyamalan and His Sad, Steady Decline

Cary McNeal
15

last airbenderOkay, what in the HELL happened to M. Night Shyamalan, writer/director of The Last Airbender? Is this really the same guy who did The Sixth Sense?

Like you, I enjoyed The Sixth Sense. The hype was a bit overdone -- yeah, okay, it had a nice twist ending -- but it was still an impressive outing for a young director who showed promise of great things to come.

Unfortunately, it's been downhill from there. Like a bike in San Francisco without brakes.

I saw Unbreakable, Shyamalan's follow-up to The Sixth Sense, the weekend it opened. The trailers were intriguing, it had Samuel Jackson, and I figured it would have another cool twist ending. It did, but the twist carried little punch because the movie was just -- what's the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah -- lame. Also, silly. Ponderous. Dour. Unaffecting.

That's the thing about twist endings: They only work if you give a crap about the characters and the story. Otherwise, your reaction is, "Oh. Yeah, okay. I gotta pee."

Next up was Signs, a movie I didn't want to see until someone I trusted told me it was good. Someone I trusted lied. Someone I trusted got himself removed my list of people I trust. Signs was better than Unbreakable, but don't confuse that with praise. It started off okay, but about half an hour in, the front wheel started wobbling, and everyone in the theater knew that we were all headed for a crash.

The final straw in Signs for me was when Mr. Shyamalamadingdong himself showed up in a small, though pivotal, role. Dude. Really? REALLY? Hire an actor, man. Seeing you in the film takes me right out of the story, even a bad one. Also, and more importantly, you're a lousy actor. Sorry, but you are. I'm surprised the director let -- oh, wait ... never mind.

Shyamalan shows up in all his movies, which is one part distraction, one part arrogance, and zero parts Alfred Hitchcock. Even Hitch knew a cameo was enough, and Shyamalan is no Hitchcock.

Signs was the last M. Night Shyamalan movie I paid to see (it was a sign all right). He joined Brian De Palma (Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale), Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor) and  David Lynch (Mulholland Dr.) on my list of Directors Who Will Never Get Another Dime Of My Hard-Earned Money. Based on the word-of-mouth and reviews his more recent films have gotten (The Village, Lady In The Water, The Happening), it sounds like I made the right decision. And now Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is getting the same kind of dismal reviews.

Bless his heart. It's not like the boy isn't trying.

I did catch a few minutes of The Happening on cable not long ago after I stumbled onto an interesting scene while flipping channels. So I watched, and it wasn't bad. For a minute. Then the front wheel started wobbling again. Hard. But this time I jumped off the bike before it tumbled into San Francisco Bay, taking lots of careers and money and stubborn M. Night Shyamalan fans with it.

Maybe acting wasn't such a bad idea, Night.

 

Image via The Last Airbender (Paramount/Nickelodeon)

 

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