M. Night Shyamalan, the director of Signs, also happens to be the director of the last movie I reviewed, The Sixth Sense. Coincidence? Perhaps. If you define coincidence as "an event happening at the same time or place, apparently by mere chance," then, yes, I guess it is sort of a coincidence.

"Signs" refers to crop circles that appeared overnight in the Pennsylvania cornfields of Graham Hess, (Mel Gibson) a preacher who lost his faith because his wife, Colleen, was killed in a freak accident (Colleen was played by Patricia Kalember, whom I didn't even recognize because all her speaking parts were spent prone over the car hood that crushed her. Nice, eh?)

At first, Graham dismisses the crop circles as a hoax. Following a series of disturbing events, however, it is clear that the crop circles are the work of unfriendly space critters who have infiltrated his property. And what with the tall corn and all, it's pretty easy for them to keep on the DL. (Signs also refers to coincidences that occur throughout the movie that imply a divine influence that Graham steadfastly denies.)

Residing in Graham's household is his underachieving brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) a good actor with a stupid name. Speaking of mediocre actors with made-up names, did you know that Vin Diesel, the cue ball starring in XXX, makes ten million dollars a flick? Sure, he's got that sexy throaty growl, a tasty bod and The Fast and the Furious but ten mil?

Rounding out this dysfunctional fam is Graham's son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and his daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin), whose odd phobia concerning drinking water becomes important later on. Incidentally, Joaquin, Rory and Abigail all have (or had) older brothers in the biz. Another coincidence? Well, if by "coincidence" you mean, "nepotism," I'd have to agree. Also: both The Sixth Sense and Signs were slow in the beginning. And is it possible for you teenyboppers to not talk while you're in the theater? I'm just saying. (Shut up.)

I wanted to see Signs because I have always been fascinated by extraterrestrials, and who doesn't dig the Twilight Zone, a series that this film has been likened to? I know, right? Unfortunately, I am often disappointed whenever someone tries to rip off Rod Serling, because he was so darn brilliant and ahead of his time.

The problems? Just as in The Sixth Sense, where there weren't enough dead people walking around for my tastes, here, too, the aliens did not get enough screen time. I know, that's the point, but when we do see a full frontal creature - it's a letdown. Not scary. Sure, there were some creepy, suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat moments. You know, inhuman voice communications, footsteps on the roof, stuff like that. But a couple of tense moments don't make a good thriller. Especially when the interesting scenes are stitched together with contrived, uninspired storytelling. For example, Morgan has asthma. Ever notice how when a character has asthma, there's a life-threatening attack and, hey, where's my inhaler? And enough with the bit-by-bit flashbacks. Not necessary. And thanks for spelling everything out for us. It goes real well with the preachy message.

The performances, overall, were solid, although the female sheriff left me cold. More importantly, I didn't find Mel all that believable as a quiet, questioning preacher. Mel as the Patriot, I totally bought. Mad Max? Oh yeah. Big-hearted guy trying to escape his seamy past? Classic Mel. But corn cob town preacher? Not unless he kicks serious ass on the weekends, like in, um, Mad Max and The Patriot. However, judging from other reviews this picture received, I am in the minority in my ambivalence. Since those "other reviews" were written by "professional movie critics", take that as you will.

The denouement, with the final alien conflict, was anti-climactic and almost as unoriginal as having all the aliens dropping dead from the flu. A few too many implausibles -- the same complaint I had with the ending of The Sixth Sense. I mean, I'm pretty good at suspending my disbelief, but not when you've got a superior life form (the extraterrestrials) making profoundly stupid mistakes.

Signs is not a bad movie, but I might have felt I had gotten my money's worth if afterward, we had snuck into Goldmember.

Rating: two-and-a-half-hearted squirts