- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

“Cursed” is the marginally exploitable remnant of a horror reunion gone wrong. Evidently, the Miramax-Dimension management thought it might be feasible to revive the Wes Craven-Kevin Williamson partnership, which resulted in the extremely lucrative “Scream” trilogy, by shifting to a werewolf pretext. It wasn’t a swell idea and “Cursed” is the mangy carcass left behind.

Mr. Craven had revitalized the horror genre in consecutive decades, starting the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise in 1984 and then “Scream” in 1996. For all we know he still has some style-setting outrages up his sleeve, but he’ll need to inter this botch first and then stoutly resist appeals to revisit the good old days .

Mr. Craven directed only the first installment of “Nightmare” and became the executive producer of the sequels. He also directed all the “Scream” features, never surpassing the instant classic impact and freshness of the prototype, in which Mr. Williamson’s inspired screenplay satirized a generation’s worth of fright movie cliches while keeping primal fear mechanisms intact.

Novel variations seemed be out of reach for the partners by the time “Scream 3” appeared in 2000. Mr. Williamson, preoccupied with his “Dawson’s Creek” TV series, had become a reluctant collaborator. One gathers that he wasn’t discernibly up for “Cursed” either, since the production was rumored to be in trouble at an early stage. Incredibly, it was in gestation for three years, a more frightening situation than anything invented for the movie. Mr. Craven missed a Halloween date last year while reshooting numerous scenes rewritten by himself and other associates.

Several original cast members got lost in the shuffle, including Skeet Ulrich, Omar Epps, Robert Forster, James Brolin, Illeana Douglas and Corey Feldman. Some of them may have been playing themselves in bit parts. The most public werewolf assault is designed to terrorize a Hollywood Boulevard club called Tinsel, which has installed horror film exhibits and invited scattered celebrities to attend. Scott Baio, doing a self-caricature as an amiable has-been, appears to be the surviving example of this inside joke.



Presumably, Joshua Jackson replaced Mr. Ulrich as Jake, curator of the Tinsel show and suspicious boyfriend of heroine Ellie, a talent coordinator for TV host Craig Kilborne. Portrayed by Christina Ricci, Ellie resides somewhere in the canyons of Hollywood with her kid brother Jimmy, smartly played by Jesse Eisenberg, confirming the good impression he made as Campbell Scott’s nephew in “Rodger Dodger.” In fact, the material might have a stronger comic and commercial foundation with Mr. Eisenberg as the teenage protagonist.

Driving home one evening with Jimmy as a passenger, Ellie suddenly collides with some kind of wild animal and veers into the other lane on Mulholland Drive, forcing another car off the road and into serious jeopardy. The sequence of events is haphazardly depicted, but the upshot is that the other driver ends up as a werewolf’s meal while Ellie and Jimmy are exposed to infection.

So is their pet dog, Zipper. It remains a matter of debate whether dire consequences or merely opportunistic slapstick should be associated with their tainted encounters. Ellie goes around sniffing out nosebleeds at the office. Jimmy exhibits prodigious strength and agility at wrestling tryouts. Zipper tears up the house in quest of raw meat.

Meanwhile, something is clearly not right about Jake as opening night approaches. He turns out to have a very checkered romantic history, which includes a couple of dishy werewolf targets: Portia di Rossi (who gets to put up the best struggle before being cornered in an elevator) — and the most conspicuous thorn in Ellie’s side, Brooke Allen as a seething rival called Joanie.

Nothing about the plot has been adequately thought out or reinforced. There’s seldom a sequence that rises above half-hearted execution. Maybe it’s funny that the director’s filmography will now include a dud called Wes Craven’s “Cursed.” But it would have been preferable to remain in control of the joke. Instead, Mr. Craven seems to be orchestrating the cave-in of his own reputation.

*

TITLE: “Cursed”

RATING:PG-13 (Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson. Music by Marco Beltrami.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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