The Austin Chronicle

Urban Legends: Final Cut

Rated R, 94 min. Directed by John Ottman. Starring Loretta Devine, Marco Hofschneider, Michael Bacall, Anthony Anderson, Jessica Cauffiel, Eva Mendez, Anson Mount, Joey Lawrence, Matthew Davis, Jennifer Morrison.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 22, 2000

Recently, in the Chronicle letters column, it was suggested that I was perhaps not the world's biggest fan of the horror film genre, based on my less-than-rapturous review of The Cell. The review you're reading now -- also of a horror film -- isn't likely to change anyone's opinion, but while The Cell was at the very least an ambitious attempt to broaden the horizons of what is surely one of the most moribund film genres out there, Urban Legends is simply a lousy film from start to finish. The horror film as a genre has but one caveat -- never bore the audience -- and this sequel to the 1998 semi-hit slasher flick ignores that rule to its own peril. John Ottman arrives with a notable background, having both scored and edited Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, Public Access, and Apt Pupil, but his directorial debut leaves plenty to be desired. It's difficult to tell how much of the fault lies with scriptwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser V). Set in the gleefully self-reflexive universe of Alpine University film school, the film plies the conventions of the genre established in Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and then goes it one better by creating a documentary filmmaker, Amy Manfield (Morrison), who is filming as her thesis feature a fictional look at urban legends. This film-within-a-film construct had whiskers on it when it was chosen for the concluding episode of the Scream trilogy; here, it's as muddled and unsuspenseful a gimmick as you're likely to see this fall. One can only hope. As a “real-life” slasher stalks Amy's cast and crew (hidden behind a Jason-esque fencing mask -- what's next? A killer with a lacrosse stick?), bodies pile up in a yawningly predictable manner, effects-happy film students (Anderson, Bacall) argue the merits of CGI versus “wet” gore effects, and Joey Lawrence sucks the life out of every scene he enters. “Whoa!” indeed. Despite the mythical horror boom supposedly jump-started by Wes Craven's Scream four years ago, films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Disturbing Behavior have failed to ignite to any serious degree the public palate for teens in peril. Maybe that's as it should be, judging from Urban Legend 's desperate bid to be taken (un)seriously; genre films tend to move in cycles, and this current one appears altogether played out. For true fans of horror and suspense (I number myself among them), a film like this, with its knowing winks to Alfred Hitchcock (there's a tower scene reminiscent of the one in Vertigo) and other masters of cinematic anxiety, is little better than a slap in the face. The right combination of humor and horror may be the most difficult aspect of a film like this to pull off. Too much of either is like the fat kid on the see-saw, only with more crimson. Urban Legends: Final Cut, whose ending is roughly as shocking as finding Leatherface with a chainsaw, is just another nail in a genre coffin, and a plain pine one, at that.

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