Thursday, February 17, 2005

Looking For Something Old to Rent? Don't Get “URBAN LEGEND”

Reviewed By A Guy Who Actually Saw This Flick

What if a serial killer decided to use common urban legends as their mode of killing, and selected a small, quiet college campus as their homicidal playground? This tale takes place at a fictitious New England college where, according to legend, 25 years before (almost to the day) a professor killed an entire dorm (save one) with a hunting knife. As if that wasn’t enough to cut into your study time, a modern day student returning to campus has just been killed by an axe-welding maniac in the backseat of her vehicle. Sound vaguely familiar?

This movie runs erratically through a lot of very familiar territory. Whereas any normal, sane college-aged kid would have transferred to another school five minutes into this trite attempt at suspense, the students at this third-tier school force us to follow them through this 98 minute exercise in untimely death and misdirection. Not only has this been done before, endless times, but it borrows heavily from other movies. This is not always a bad thing…. yes, in THIS case it is….but paying homage to other movie scenarios has been done quite successfully in movies like Scream. But, this isn’t Scream. And it’s not entertaining, humorous, amusing or even scary in any way. What we have with Urban Legend is an attempt to put a fresh spin on the same tired and overdone horror special effects left over from the sequels of Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street a decade ago.

The movie revolves around a group of stereotypical college kids who look a little too old to be sophomores, live in spacious dorms, visit empty campus libraries (the concept of an empty campus library is an urban legend in itself) and die on cue in some fashion that emulates a specific well-known urban legend. The cast of characters includes Paul, a pushy, cynical school newspaper reporter (Jared Leto doing his Rob Lowe at community college imitation), a self-centered party animal named Parker (played by Michael Rosenbaum who does a pretty good job of making the audience wish he were already dead), a campus cop named Reese (played by Loretta Devine doing the best she can with the ubiquitous, yet insubstantial role) and of course, our strange attractor for all this murderous mayhem, Natalie (played by Alicia Witt in a performance that alternates between Dana Scully’s deadpan performance in the X-Files, and a freaked out pinball running from dark location to dark location). The similarity? Inanimate objects.

Honorable mention goes to Robert Englund as Professor Wexler, obviously cast to try and bring some sort of cinematic credibility to this jumbled mess of a script and to Joshua Jackson from Dawson’s Creek who had the good professional sense to get himself killed early, after managing to create more than a 2D character. But even good screen presence by these two actors was futile when faced with the enormous task of actually trying raise this flick above the mundane.

Dialog is weak, pacing is slow, and frankly, we don’t give a damn about any of the characters. In fact, a couple of characters were so thinly fleshed out, they were dead almost as soon as they were introduced. Unlike most successful movies of this genre, the audience never had enough time to observe the character flaws that always mark you for death in these types of films. There was one notable exception.

As far as amusing scenes go, pickings are pretty slim with emphasis being on the grotesque. Parker, the party animal, managed one of the best ‘set-ups’ in the film, trying to guess the killer’s next urban legend. With a few exceptions other than the very first scene, the movie pretty much plays out like the 2000th rerun of any number of other ‘slasher’ flicks: killer kills all girl’s friends, girl suspects everyone, girl runs to and fro in the dark. In an effort to try and generate any semblance of suspense, the story throws misleading clues and false leads like rice at a wedding.

Even the deaths are more grisly than scary. By the time this movie grinds to an halt (mercifully), the audience has lost all sense of concern about the main character’s safety, waiting around only to see ‘who did it’. And of course, by the time that revelation occurs, the audience has already figured out that there is no way in hell that they could have ever guessed the totally contrived motive and twisted ending. Actually, faster than you can say, ‘Enny, Meany, Minny, Moe’, you’ll have the false resolution figured out; but just give up there while you’re ahead. Because just when you think it’s all over…aw, you know!

No comments: