Suggesting the studio-budget remake of "Paranormal Activity" that Paramount didn't shoot (at least not yet), Universal's alien-abduction thriller "The Fourth Kind" none too cleverly bids to pass off mock-documentary footage of levitating psychological patients -- and, scarier still, ordinary talking heads -- as the real deal. Even the most gullible auds will be challenged to buy into the pic, billed as "based on the actual case studies" and, in any case, rendered rather boring by writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi ("The Cavern"). B.O. activity after opening weekend stands to be less than paranormal.
Though playing a stressed-out shrink who comes to believe she has lost her husband and daughter to aliens that go "boo" in the night, Milla Jovovich appears in the film's first scene as herself, purporting to have based her performance as Dr. Abigail Emily Tyler on archival footage, circa 2000, of the "real" woman, a resident of Nome, Alaska. Jovovich also warns that some of what the viewer will see is "extremely disturbing," a promise revealed by the final half-hour's hokum to have been an empty one.
From the opening reel, Osunsanmi, too, appears as himself, interviewing a borderline catatonic "Dr. Tyler" who looks nothing like the star; frequent split-screen images of her beside Jovovich appear thoroughly bizarre and do little to increase the plausibility factor. Audio snippets of Osunsanmi's interview with Tyler are also played intermittently -- identified at screen's edge by the words "actual audio" -- in a failed attempt to boost the pic's believability.
As the film's narrative begins, Tyler's fellow psychologist, Dr. Abel Campos (Elias Koteas), hypnotizes her into remembering that her late husband, also a shrink, was stabbed to death by an entity whose face she can't recall. Subsequently, several of Tyler's own patients report sleeplessness and eerie visitations by white owls at their bedroom windows. One of these patients (Corey Johnson) goes insane after a hypnosis session with Tyler, killing himself and his family members while a documentary crew shoots videotape (Osunsanmi divides the screen into quarters for this lurid episode).
Meanwhile, a local sheriff (Will Patton, having fun at realism's expense) accuses Tyler of having provoked the murders through her hypnosis. Tyler later finds that one of her dictation tapes includes an alien voice, which the doctor brilliantly believes is neither Latin nor Greek. And a second patient (Enzo Cilenti) begins to levitate, shrieking, in the course of Tyler's trance induction.
At least until the heroine's young daughter, Ashley (Mia McKenna-Bruce), disappears more than an hour in, a lot of relatively little importance has happened at a snail's pace. Osunsanmi's somber, mostly humorless film would seem to have its audience believe that one of the side effects of alien visitation is extremely ... slow ... speech.
Though named for a type of close encounter more advanced than any Steven Spielberg ever filmed, "The Fourth Kind" never reveals its aliens in more detail than one can vaguely imagine from the occasional flash of white light. Patton and Koteas deliver loopy performances, though not loopy enough to compensate for the glaring deficiencies of other cast members.
Charged with playing a doctor who loses her marbles, Jovovich hasn't the chops to convey her character's nightmare believably. Her counterpart, unidentified in the end credits except as co-star "Dr. Abigail Emily Tyler," wildly overacts the psychologist's catatonia, impossible as that sounds.
To appear more authentic, the pseudo-documentary footage has been severely degraded in post-production, though the effect looks like damage less from UFOs than from weak UHF reception. Other tech credits are just OK, with the pic's owl wrangler pulling off the most supernatural work.