It turns out that "The Eye," this month's homely Hollywood remake of an Asian horror film, could credibly double as one of those feminine sixth-sense TV dramas. Jessica Alba stars as Sydney Wells, a chic blind violinist whose sight is restored in a cornea transplant. Suddenly, those blurring images she's seeing are trying to tell her something - and no, it's not, "Get a new agent."
She's meant to see fires, hear voices, and be lunged at by testy apparitions who leave handprints in spilled sugar. This isn't terribly different from the far lazier "Over Her Dead Body," a romantic comedy about a psychic and a dead woman that also opened yesterday. (Unlike "The Eye," it was actually screened for movie critics.)
The original "Eye" was a moody mediocre stab at supernatural dread from Danny and Oxide Pang, Thai-born twins working out of Hong Kong. Slow, vague, and without a legitimate chill or a surprise, the movie was a drag. This American version has been directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, two Europeans who've transplanted the story (wanly adapted by Sebastian Gutierrez), the corneas, and the mediocrity (are those death-ghosts from the afterlife or Roswell?). Their movie is watchable - never more gratuitously so than when Alba is filmed showering and slipping into a tank top. But we've been here before, no?
Moreau and Palud's first film together was an ultimately underwhelming exercise in terror called "Them." It's a notch above this, their Hollywood debut. The noise and cheap bumps in the night from the Pangs' movie have been toned down, but without them you realize that atmosphere was all the Pangs had going for them. Now "The Eye" is a pilot for another show about a sexy woman who sees - or is obsessed with - the dead. But Alba, with her ethereal beauty, is no Patricia Arquette ("Medium") or Jill Hennessy ("Crossing Jordan"). She could give Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Ghost Whisperer") a run for her money in the girlishness department.
But even Hewitt's face has a range of feeling. Her voice has pleasingly rich character. When Alba talks, no matter what she's actually saying, it usually sounds like she's asking, "Does this come in a two?" She narrates "The Eye." And it speaks volumes about her directors' tone deafness that they play up what will never be Alba's strong suit. "People say seeing is believing. . . Now I see using my other senses. . . I bet music looks beautiful." All I can see is jeans.
Alba spends a lot of her scenes with Parker Posey, who plays Sydney's guilty sister; Alessandro Nivola, who plays her sight therapist; or Rachel Ticotin, in a small part (where's she been?) as, well, some unhappy Mexican lady. They all look like they'd rather be somewhere else. But they are here enough for you to appreciate the experience in their faces versus the disruptive purity in their costar's.
As a performer, Alba still seems to be figuring out what she's good at. One thing going for her is the uncommon, unblemished niceness she radiates on screen. It's terrible for horror or action or comedy or drama. But it's perfect for, say, water. She was never more convincing than she was as Paul Walker's moral-minded girlfriend in the tropical thriller "Into the Blue." She had little to say and little to wear, but she'd found her calling as a good-hearted mermaid. If she's going to keep doing fright movies, maybe she can be the Esther Williams of horror.