2 stars


directed by: Jamie Blanks
starring: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Loretta Devine, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, with a cameo by Robert Englund

(back of video blurb):

       "There are myths in our modern culture about killers who hide in the back of your car, about babysitters who get threatening phone calls. Most of us know they are just ghost stories. But the kids on campus begin to believe when co-eds start dying in strange ways based on these urban legends"

choice dialogue:

"She was trying to summon the dead Damon, not frat boys with badly grown facial hair!"

slash with panache?

       (review by The Blue Iris)

       Call me jaded, but this is the first film I reviewed (with the exception of DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979)--which I don't consider a film) that left me feeling absolutely nothing at the end, in the middle, or any other time. Maybe disgust. Even bad films can accidentally give me a jolt at some point or stumble on a particularly neat gore effect...something. Anything. URBAN LEGEND failed at its every attempt to thrill, chill, or gross out. Were it not for the criminally wasted Divine retribution for listening to Bonnie Tyler whilst driving...talent of Robert Englund, I wouldn't have made it through the first half hour. His campy appearance as a creepy college professor should have tipped off the filmmakers on how to proceed with the rest of the movie and given the wooden actors something to play off. Basically, URBAN LEGEND is an interesting idea that fails because of the uninspired script, head-scratchingly bad writing, and phoned-in performances. Its clearly Hollywood's idea of college life--complete with "hip" banter, a sex talk show on the college radio station (??!!), and every stereotype under the sun...with the exception of minorities, of course. Yes, we've entered the "Friends" dimension, where everyone is lily white and dressed by the Gap. But all the cliched stock characters are here that all teeny bopper movies must have: there's the bitchy Goth chick (surprisingly NOT played by Fairuza Balk), the virginal heroine, the nerdy practical joker, the sex fiend, the stuffy headmaster, etc. All that's missing was the old janitor creeping up behind them to say "You're all doomed!" No, nothing that fun here...

       I was sure there was no way this movie could be bad. I've read plenty of urban legends, and there are so many that give me the creeps I figured a horror story about an "Urban Legends Killer" would be good just on the strength of the source material. It worked for WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE (1980), and BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). Who can forget the spider seen in THE BELIEVERS (1987)? Part of an urban legend. CANDYMAN (1992) took the fascination with urban legends and made a movie that still freaks me out. How many essentially rational people look in the back seat before driving at night? How many of you can stand in front of a mirror in the dark alone? Some urban legends are just malicious (mainly the fast food- and celebrity-related ones), but the basic power of these stories lies in ...ooooh scary!

our collective fears of the unknown and the need to be warned, lest we become victims like "the friend of a friend". As long as we know the danger is out there, we won't be caught off guard. How could a film about urban legends possibly fail to be scary?

       Let's examine how they managed to suck all the scariness out of it...

       The film fails on so many levels...scares aren't scary, the jokes aren't funny, the dialogue is boring, and the whole thing is at a veritable standstill until the end, when it finally picks up the pace. By then, I lost interest. The whole thing comes off as a music video--slick, stylish, empty, pointless. Take out the music, throw in a little blood, and you end up with URBAN LEGEND. Old NIN videos creep me out more than this thing. Let's give a look at the plot...there's plenty of that. Too bad the damn characters are so uninteresting...

       The plot centers around Alicia Witt (DUNE), a young college student with a "terrible" secret in her past. Witt is nice to look at, but she certainly doesn't yet have the talent or ability to carry a whole movie. She's never endearing or likable--a big no-no if we're rooting for her to be the Final Girl. Her best friend is played by "that Noxzema Girl" Rebecca Gayheart (a well-done but "too little too late" joke at the end of the film, actually). She too is nice to look at. Then there's the hunk of the movie, the aptly cast Jared Leto (who apparently only likes to costar with redheads...what's next? That 70's Show?). Jared is also nice to look at, but a bit lacking in the charisma department. He's a school reporter who takes a keen interest in the story when people start turning up dead at the college--all killed in the style of urban legends and all with some connection to Witt. Is she the murderer? Is he? Is there anyone who cares? Add to that a 25th anniversary of an alleged college dorm massacre, a lot of running around and screaming, and you have a lot to digest in one overwrought, poorly written Hollywood slasher flick. At least the ending is more plausible than the ending of SCREAM 3 (2000) (although pretty much anything is more plausible than the ending of SCREAM 3). In fact, this is one of the worst cash-ins of Scream you're likely to find...there is more to the formula than just attractive cast+fake blood=scary movie.

       That's another major problem with the movie--none of the characters are anything more than bodies, and we're just waiting for them to be picked off or fingered as the killer. The acting isn't even bad enough to make the characters Parkas have never been used to such chilling effect... ;-)even remotely likable (someone call Linnea Quigley!) Everyone is just wooden and seemingly bored. Apart from the mediocre acting, criminally inept writing prevents this from ever being more than a subpar entry into the slasher flick vault. "Predictable" would be a kind description..."Ooh, that creepy janitor is unattractive! He must be the killer!" "That Goth chick listens to weird music and wears black! Let's hope she dies next!" Please. So, "predictable" is one way of describing it, but then there's the actual story--the intriguing idea of depicting urban legends in the murders--which is better as an idea than in the actual execution. The problem is that anyone who's at least remotely familiar with some of the more famous stories will already know what's going to come next before the bodies even start piling up.

       Maybe this movie was doomed to be mediocre at best, a selling-out of the genre at worst, because it didn't have a chance from the beginning. Not even Robert Englund's gleefully creepy professor could resuscitate this plodding, scare-free, pointless exercise in non-suspense. The actors couldn't fake being scared, and neither could I. Perhaps the upcoming sequel will have the spark needed to overcome the problems inherent in this one. I recommend this movie only if you're under 18, never read any urban legends, watch Dawson's Creek, and thought TITANIC deserved the Best Picture Oscar. I suggest everyone else log on to one of the many well-written Web sites about urban legends to get some real chills. And don't pick up any hitchhikers...

BODYCOUNT 9      female:3 / male:5 (and 1 little doggie!)

       1) Female beheaded with axe
       2) Male hanged
       3) Female strangled
       4) Male run over and impaled on parking garage spikes
       5) Doggie microwaved
       6) Male force-fed Drano
       7) Female hacked up with axe
       8) Male found dead (method unknown)
       9) Male killed in car accident