Paranormal investigators Tom Buckley (Murphy) and Margaret Matheson (Weaver) cannot resist applying their rigorous scientific methods to the showy antics of blind spoon-bender Simon Silver (De Niro), who comes out of retirement for one last series of show
Having spent his last film, Buried, in the company of a single actor in a wooden box, Rodrigo Cortés assembles an impressive cast for his second feature, with the headliners joined by Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson and Submarine’s Craig Roberts. But they have their work cut out selling this overwrought thriller which, in its best moments, combines Hitchcockian intricacy with the cinematic sleight-of-hand of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, but more often feels like a shabby X-Files episode with 50 times the budget but a fraction of the wit.
After swiftly debunking a traditional séance, Tom (Cillian Murphy) and Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) show a class of rapt students — presumably studying Parapsychology 101 — how to spot the telltale signs, or ‘red lights’, of a con artist. Their skills are given more of a workout exposing the cheap chicanery of self-styled psychic Leonardo Palladino (Leonardo Sbaraglia). This they achieve by tuning their radio equipment (which they’ve somehow smuggled into the theatre) to the frequency of a tiny receiver whispering into Palladino’s ear. So far, so fun — but the ludicrous sight of him being dragged from the stage by angry cops is a red flag that Cortés may not be entirely in command of his material.
And so it proves. When Robert De Niro is wheeled out as a blind, Uri Geller-type mesmerist, setting the stage for a face-off between the showman and the debunkers, Red Lights starts to falter, forcing Cortés to fall back on thriller conventions. With a final, fatal flourish, the director reveals what’s been up his sleeve all along: an ending so ridiculous it requires the audience not only to suspend disbelief, but hang it by the neck until it is dead.
Even with flashes of invention and the game cast, it would take a wilier showman than Cortés to truly impress with this shabby bag of tricks.