Rated R - Running Time: 1:50 - Released 9/10/99

For those who still enjoy a rousing game of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," this film will provide another connection. Bacon stars in David Koepp's Stir Of Echoes as a man troubled by vague and disturbing images, and he plays it with the kind of thick, sweaty tension that is just right for this type of psycho-thriller. Written by Richard Matheson (What Dreams May Come), who wrote the novel, and adapted for the screen by director Koepp, Stir Of Echoes is deliciously creepy, but suffers occasionally from pacing problems and also from its similarities to the recent Bruce Willis vehicle, The Sixth Sense.

Bacon is a telephone lineman named Tom Witzky, who lives a pretty normal life in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and their son Jake (Zachary David Cope), until he dares Maggie's sister to hypnotize him. His main reason for challenging Lisa (Illeana Douglas) is that he is skeptical of the validity of her hobby, but when he goes under, he really goes under. Next thing you know, he's seeing visions during every waking hour. Primarily he sees a girl (Jenny Morrison), apparently dead, who seems to want something from him. What's more distressing is that she seems to be on a first-name basis with little Jake.

After a few panicking weeks Tom asks Lisa to un-hypnotize him, but it seems to do no good. He becomes more obsessed than ever with "Samantha," who turns out to be a local girl who disappeared about six months ago. He also becomes more distant toward Maggie, while he and Jake trade information about what they're supposed to do next. Finally, Samantha treats Tom to the whole awful story, and the result threatens to rock the entire close-knit community.

Stir Of Echoes is full of scary pictures and sudden, loud chords of jump music, as is the norm with this type film, and director Koepp (Trigger Effect) uses many trite conventions, like the old "zombie in the mirror" trick. But Bacon's performance is what makes it more than just another dead-person-walking-the-earth story. Bacon is truly a man possessed; when he is digging furiously in his back yard, he reminded me of Richard Dreyfus piling up the potatoes in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The Chicago accent is something new for him, and he incorporates it naturally into his characterization of cynic- turned-paranoid Tom.

Thrillers like Stir Of Echoes don't expect to win awards. They don't pretend to be high-brow entertainment. But what they should do is provide an adequately creepy story plausible enough to sustain the audience's belief. For the most part, with its nice visuals and Bacon's energetic tension, this film fulfills that task. If it doesn't keep you awake at night, Stir Of Echoes will at least make you go "whoa!" a few times. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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