Eric D. Snider

Cold Creek Manor

Even though I see a lot of movies, I'm still not very good at predicting what will occur in them. I get a general sense, but I rarely peg the specific events. Yet in "Cold Creek Manor," a rather plain suspense film, I don't think there is even one thing that happens that I didn't foresee. It's the sort of movie that makes dumb guys like me feel smart.

So there's this family in New York City, but they want to get away to someplace less hectic, so they buy a run-down old house in the country. Dad, Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid), is a documentary filmmaker. His wife, Leah (Sharon Stone), works in some kind of high-finance corporate thing, doing I don't know what, but she's left that job to be with her family at Cold Creek Manor. They have a young daughter Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and son Jesse (Ryan Wilson), who are both pretty stoked about the dilapidated piece of crap their family has moved into.

The locals are funny about the house. When they stop at a gas station on the way, an attendant played by Juliette Lewis gets a really icky look on her face when they mention Cold Creek Manor, and I mean even ickier than the look that's usually on Juliette Lewis' face.

Turns out there was some trouble there not long ago. The former owner, Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), lived with his family, but they went missing, and then he went to jail and the bank foreclosed and now he wants his house back. Since Cooper is too trusting and a little stupid, frankly, he lets Dale work as a handyman, even though he leers at Cooper's wife and mentions that his young daughter is "pretty." You'd think someone who makes documentaries for a living would be more observant about people, but oh well.

So some bad stuff starts happening, some of it involving snakes, and the local sheriff (Dana Eskelson) gets involved, and there's one thing and another, and before you know it everything comes to a head during a big rainstorm.

This is the sort of film that shows you all the cards in its hand in the beginning, shuffles them, then somehow expects you not to recognize them when they start showing up again. "Yeah, movie, there's a blue piece of plastic in the driveway that turns out to be important," you say. "I knew it would turn up sooner or later, because you gave me an ominous closeup of it ages ago. Same with the old slaughterhouse weapons posted on the wall that Dale went on and on about for a whole scene. Did you really think that wouldn't tip me off that they'd be used later? Come on, movie. Give me a little credit."

Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone: love 'em. Both are really likable actors, and Stone is radiantly beautiful. I wish she were in more movies, even if they're bad ones like "Gloria."

The writer/director is Mike Figgis, whose "Timecode" (2000) and "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995) indicate he's much better than this. I don't know what he thought he was doing here in potboiler-thriller territory.

I recently read an interview with Mike Nelson, host and head writer of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a man who clearly knows his bad movies. He said he has no problem with a movie being stupid; that's not what makes a film bad. "Be stupid, sure, just don't be boring," he said.

My sentiments exactly. Plenty of movies are dumb but entertaining, and "Cold Creek Manor" is almost one of them. It may be predictable, but it's not dull, not when you have Juliette Lewis and Stephen Dorff's mega-white-trash alcohol-based relationship, not to mention Christopher Plummer playing a delusional old man who tells his son, "You're the corrupt spawn of your whoring mother." That's the kind of insane, laughable dialogue that helps pass the time from one easily spotted plot twist to the next.

Grade: C

Rated R, frequent harsh profanity, some violence, some nudity (in photographs)

1 hr., 58 min.

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