** (out of four)
As two dudes road trip to California with a feisty girl named Haley, “The Signal” at first resembles a long-awaited remake of 1989’s “The Wizard.” (Which I know is never actually going to happen.) Then the MIT students bust out the computers and fly through lines of coding like they’re interviewing for a job at Facebook in "The Social Network." THEN, an attempt to track down a pesky hacker lands Nic (Brenton Thwaites of the upcoming “The Giver”) in a secretive facility, where Damon (Laurence Fishburne) explains that Nic and his pals may have been contaminated by aliens. And the movie sorta turns into “Chronicle.”
What “The Signal” (also the title of a better, unrelated 2007 movie) never becomes is more than a showcase for director/co-writer William Eubank to flex his muscles. Some of the shots are impressive, even gorgeous. But technical skill turns into showing off when the story fails to keep up. A couple of attempts at twists are almost laughable, though no more so than the ultra-serious/unintentionally funny moment of Damon pulling a gun from an otherwise empty briefcase. Looking a little like a young Colin Farrell, Thwaites, given a lot more to do than in the terrible “Maleficent,” carries the movie just fine, but he’s running in place—from forehead-smacking behavior (just because someone is young doesn’t mean they’re dumb enough to sneak into a creepy house at night while leaving their girlfriend alone in the car) to frustrating outbursts in the research building he’s not allowed to leave.
Director Gareth Edwards followed the lower-budget “Monsters” with the impressive “Godzilla.” I’d like to see what Eubank could do with more money and a better script. No one watching “The Signal” will care about the relationship between Nic and Haley or what happens to Nic’s pal Jonah (Beau Knapp). Every bit of action is in service of the big moment meant to blow your mind.
Alas, you touch your head and discover your mind remains intact, largely unstimulated.
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