Gift, The (2000) Director: Sam RaimiStars: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Katie Holmes, Hilary SwankRelease Company: Paramount Classics

MPAA Rating: R

What a piece of donkey dung The Gift turns out to be. You’d think it would contain decent entertainment value since Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan and Dark Man) was directing, Billy Bob Thornton (One False Move and Sling Blade) had written another Southern script, and the film had quality actresses Cate Blanchett and Hilary Swank. Of course there was potential danger with Keanu Reeves on board, but his part didn’t promise to be on screen too much.

Actually, as bad as Reeves is, his inept ranting moments provide some of the best unintended comedy for this disappointing project. Reeves’ Donnie Barksdale character spends most of his time snarling and shouting monotoned warnings at fortune teller Annie Wilson (Blanchett), throwing furniture around, and beating up his wife (Hilary Swank). He gets off the funniest line of the movie in the courtroom scene when it’s revealed that the murder victim had been having an affair with the mullet sporting, scraggly bearded ill-tempered Barksdale. When the lawyer asks Reeves why the beautiful local society girl Jessica King (Katie Holmes) would have an affair with him, Reeves deadpans: “She said I was the only man in town who knew how to fuck!”

With more moments like this, the film could do great business at midnight cult movies for years. Not the place you’d expect to see a Raimi and Thornton film. Unfortunately their mystery thriller flops due to its utter predictability.

Actually, Cate Blanchett does a credible acting performance with the weakest script I’ve ever witnessed from Thornton. The dialogue is so cliché ridden with characters that remain flat and stereotypical that Thornton must have knocked it off as a lark without engaging any higher level thinking. For serious movie fans, Blanchett will be the lone reason for watching the film, just to see how she is able to give a little depth and substance to a role that really doesn’t give her a lot of room to show her stuff.

After her incredible performance in Boys Don’t Cry, it’s embarrassing to see Hilary Swank reduced to being type cast as a wimpy masochistic wife who can’t leave her abusive husband — essentially serving as little more than a punching bag.

Giovanni Ribisi gets to perform as a retarded character once more, but any audience who can’t figure out where his problems stem from in his first scenes has to be a little on the retarded side itself. His was the character that made me want to shout out at the screen when he telegraphs his problems so blatantly while pleading for Annie to explain them. It took a great deal of restraint to prevent myself from screaming, “Come on, dude – I know why you hate your father so much, and I don’t even know you!”

Of course, I don’t know what kind of pressures Raimi was under to put this piece of trash out for public consumption. I can’t believe that it was his idea to tack on the sentimental feel good ending to the elementary script, but that Hollywood ending won’t be enough to give the film that positive buzz. The film is poorly written enough to go well with teen multiplex audiences if only they had given more screen time to Reeves and Holmes. Instead the movie will likely make a quick exit from the theaters and hope to recoup some profits from the video sales.

Give Raimi some credit for creating a few nice visuals for Blanchett’s nightmarish visions. Those are good enough to prevent utter boredom, but are too well done to successfully grant The Gift cult movie status. I really think the studio that put this together missed the boat on that. Just think of the box office potential of many years selling this movie into cult movie markets if only Blanchett hadn’t developed her shallowly scripted character and Raimi hadn’t used his visual skills to make those dream sequences effective. The rest of the movie was like going to the county fair and getting ripped off by the traveling sideshows