'Red Lights' hits the brakes ★ 1/2

A promising start comes to a stop in latest from director of 'Buried'

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'Red Lights'

'Red Lights' (July 25, 2012)

One hour and 53 minutes of paranormal inactivity, writer-director Rodrigo Cortes' yakky "Red Lights" is a distinct comedown from the Spanish filmmaker's previous (and second) feature, "Buried,"a stern thriller (too stern for American audiences; it made 95 percent of its money overseas) featuring Ryan Reynolds in a fearsomely confining coffin.

"Red Lights" opens things up, and it looks like a million other pictures. Shot in Barcelona, Spain, though set, kind of, in Chicago (the license plates say Illinois, even if nothing else on screen does), it's a story of rational, cool-headed scientists played by Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver whose sideline, outside the groves of academia — is anybody able to get by on one salary these days? — involves exposing phony mentalists and fraudulent purveyors of "miraculous" healing.

His vocal inflections sounding weary and bordering on "oh, whatever," Robert De Niro plays "perhaps the most celebrated psychic of our time," a blind mystic coming out of retirement for one last tour. This news is greeted by the world's media outlets like a manned expedition to Uranus. When Murphy's character slams down a copy of The Daily Gazette (literally; that's the name of the newspaper), the banner headline announcing the De Niro character's latest exploits arrives in "NIXON RESIGNS"-size type.

You notice such things because not enough goes right with the movie to divert your attention. "Red Lights" starts rather well, with a suspicious seance, followed by a quick introduction of petty academic infighting between Weaver's Dr. Matheson and her weaselly rival, played by Toby Jones. Cortes chews over a lot of supernatural this-and-that in his script (he also edited the film), and he has his mind on more than easy scares. Yet the storytelling proceeds in such a halting manner, with De Niro's speeches going on and on and on, that before long you'd kill for an easy scare. Still, Cortes made "Buried," which means he has more good work to offer. Better luck next film.

mjphillips@tribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

'Red Lights' -- 1 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: R (for language and some violence)

Running time: 1:53

Opens: Friday

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