Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Sometimes too much sincerity can be a bad thing. I applaud the effort made by director Olatunde Osunsanmi to forge a new trail in depicting alien encounters in The Fourth Kind. With its extensive reenactments "based on actual case studies," however, the movie ends up feeling like a glossy reality TV program.

To be clear, that's not a compliment.

Milla Jovovich begins the movie by introducing herself and claiming that the movie is based on real-life events that occurred in Nome, Alaska, around the turn of the century. Jovovich plays a psychologist named Dr. Abbey Tyler, and we then see footage of the "actual" Dr. Tyler as director Osunsanmi interviews her.

The staged interview footage of the sallow, big-eyed woman plays throughout, providing far more details than are absolutely necessary to tell the story. After a particularly traumatic event, for example, her off-screen narration describes her disturbed state of mind, even as Jovovich is emoting silently on-screen. It's highly distracting, to say the least.

So is the director's decision to overlay fictional and "real" audio tracks on top on each other during certain key moments, or to split the screen and show the fictional recreation next to the "true life" video. The whole point of the movie then transforms into a debate on "real" vs. "fiction," as opposed to the far more interesting events that are taking place somewhere under all the trumped-up attempts to convince us that we're watching something that really happened.

It's like watching a movie with footnotes.

Most movies that claim to be based on real life are straining to lend their story credulity, a la The Strangers last year. The Fourth Kind goes to such strenuous lengths to establish its legitimacy, though, that it ends up feeling like a cheat by the time all its "facts" are laid on the table.

That's a shame because some of the sequences feel authentically creepy, even though they're not likely to convince non-believers. What does work is the decision to keep the focus on just a few settings. That makes it feel as though the walls are closing in on the psychiatrist as she interviews her patients on video, employing hypnosis to help them recall the nightmares that are disturbing their sleep.

The actors are hampered because their performances are held up against their "real life" counterparts as a point of constant comparison, thanks to the distracting - rather than illuminating - split screens.

Jovovich does as well as could be expected as the weary, often blank-faced psychologist. Will Patton monstrously overacts, but the part of the doubting Sheriff August (an alias) of Nome is written as a clueless, incompetent, furious monster, so there's not much for Patton to do with the character except glower and stomp his feet. Elias Koteas contributes a few grace notes as a sympathetic psychologist.

As the closing credits roll, we listen to "real life" audio of ordinary people recounting their close encounters with UFOs and alien beings. The venerable advertising campaign for an audiotape manufacturer -- "Is it real or is it Memorex?" - comes to mind.

Is The Fourth Kind real or is it entirely a product of imagination? I have no idea, but I kind of wish the filmmakers did so they could have made either a documentary or a full-fledged fictional feature. Either one would have been preferable to the unsatisfying mishmash that ended up on screen.

P.S. What's the deal with the white owl?

The Fourth Kind

  • Olatunde Osunsanmi
  • Olatunde Osunsanmi (screenplay)
  • Olatunde Osunsanmi (story)
  • Terry Robbins (story)
  • Milla Jovovich
  • Will Patton
  • Hakeem Kae-Kazim
  • Corey Johnson
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Olatunde OsunsanmiTerry RobbinsMilla JovovichWill PattonHakeem Kae-KazimCorey JohnsonMysterySci-FiThriller

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