At the end of a preview of Unbreakable last week, one member of the audience actually shouted: "I want my money back!" Since all of us had got in free, this was pretty funny, but a little unfair.
Unbreakable is a Bruce Willis movie, without a smirk. Nor is there any sex. And not much violence, either, except for a strangling. It's made by the same people who gave us The Sixth Sense, and Bruce could be the psychic little boy in that movie grown up in this one to become a superhero who doesn't know it. Although you can't hurt him, he's still sad.
Bruce, a security guard at a football stadium in Philadelphia, is especially sad when we first meet him, after a train wreck. He asks his estranged wife, Robin Wright Penn, if he's ever even been sick. He consults Samuel L. Jackson, whose name, like a prophet, is Elijah, who runs an art gallery for comic books; who likes to dress up like a Vatican Guard; and who explains that pictorial super-heroism goes all the way back to Egyptian hieroglyphics.
If I told you what happens next, you'd want your money back.
So telepathic Bruce discovers his true role in the battle between good and evil just in time for a plot twist that won't surprise anyone who ever read one of Elijah's comics.
The famous sadist, wonderfully played by Geoffrey Rush, is still writing pornographic novels even in the insane asylum. His manuscripts are smuggled out by Kate, a chambermaid who likes to fantasize what she won't do.
The good liberal abbe who runs the asylum, Joaquin Phoenix, would rather Kate fantasized about God, or maybe him. But Napoleon sends the bad doctor, Michael Caine, to shut up Sade by any mean necessary. But take away his quill pen, and the marquis will use voice-mail.
Meanwhile, Amelia Warner, the doctor's caged-bir wife, had been reading Justine and dreaming about her interior decorator, Stephen Mayor. And during one of Sade's theatricals, the inmates take over the asylum.
Rush, Winslet, Caine, and Phoenix all turn in fine performances, and Quills is fantastic to look at, with a corrupt green glow.
It's also bogus.
While the French medical establishment was at least as sadistic as the writer who gave us the word for it, the wretched marquis was hardly a free-speech martyr or subversive philosopher. He wrote drivel, and he was locked up because he liked to mutilate young women. But it's a lot harder to make a movie about innocence than a poisoned lollipop about hypocrisy, necrophilia, torture, and rape.