Friday, September 22, 2000

A cut below

Movie: Urban Legends: Final Cut

Posted on Fri, Sep 22, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 1.00

Late in "Urban Legends: Final Cut" (long after discriminating viewers have fled for the exits), a telling bit of dialogue is floated. While watching a colleague's movie, student filmmakers gasp their recognition that "It's awful."

Too bad we don't get a glimpse at that disparaged epic, because it would be interesting to learn what the makers of this resoundingly awful sequel think qualifies as bad. It must be a real stinker.

The original Urban Legend was no great shakes, either. But at least writer Silvio Horta had a cute notion: base a slasher movie on the often-told scare tales of modern myth, including vanishing hitchhikers and the marauding stranglers said to haunt Lovers' Lanes. Horta's name appears in the credits of "UL2" but only for creating characters carried over into the sophomore chapter. (There's one, by my count.) Main scribes Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson are apparently determined to take the teen-friendly horror franchise in a different direction.

Thus, we're introduced to aspiring director Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison), whose senior thesis film follows a fictional serial killer as he acts out those deadly legends. Her mentor, Professor Solomon (Hart Bochner), considers this a terrific idea for a script, which tells you all you need to know about the artistic aspirations at Alpine University.

When a real-life madman begins knocking off students, our heroine teams up with Travis Stark, the twin brother of a murdered classmate (Matthew Davis in both roles). Apparently, missing undergrads are no big deal at Alpine: Even after the mysterious assailant has dispatched numerous victims, the detecting pair receives no support from Reese (the returning Loretta Devine), the security guard and Pam Grier devotee introduced in the first "Urban Legends" (Mr. Horta, your check is in the mail.)

Eva Mendes, a Gina Gershon look-alike with a nice range of expressions, brings style to the role of Vanessa, Amy's boom operator and a future victim. Along with Morrison, she's bound for bigger things. But by the time the killer is exposed (from behind a fencing mask), it's impossible to care. How many well-telegraphed bumps in the night can viewers be expected to enjoy?

Much of the action follows the movie-within-a-movie motif, a gimmick that allows for flights of fancy but absolutely crushes suspension of disbelief. That's a bit surprising, since nearly everyone in the credits -- from rookie director John Ottman on down -- has been linked with the University of Southern California film school, normally thought to turn out competent filmmakers.

The celluloid scholars at Alpine are all drooling about their Hitchcock Award, which "practically guarantees a three-picture deal in Hollywood." The word "art" does not appear anywhere, not even in the graffiti on Alpine's Orson Welles Film Center.

And art -- even its charming cousins artifice and artisanship does not exist in this film, either.


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