The Frighteners - * * *

Dark change-of-pace comedy is flooded with special effects, but its twisted sense of humor does manage to emerge. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, Psychic Investigator, and con man, though not in the traditional sense. Frank, who has the ability to see spirits, works with a trio of spooks. They haunt, he cleanses. It’s been a decent living until recently. Frank’s spiritual pals (John Astin, Jim Fyfe and Chi McBride) talk of leaving the business. The local paper has printed a story claiming Frank is a fraud. And most chilling of all, a mysterious spectre seems to be responsible for a rash of heart-attack deaths…and a bizaare FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs) claims that Frank is the murderer. The effects used in The Frighteners are so non-stop that after a while you get used to them, and then the story shines through. A few opening effects aside, only a couple seem done merely for effects sake. The screenplay contains plenty of bizaare black humor, and Michael J. Fox handles the precedings deftly. The largest problem with the Frighteners, surprising for a thriller, is its lack of surprises. The film’s major revelation had been so heavily foreshadowed that it loses any sense of shock. The creepy FBI agent, however, does add an unusual twist…though he takes a while to get accustomed to. Not everyone will enjoy the comic gore, but if you have a taste for the unusual, the Frighteners will deliver.

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