Cursed

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It amazes me that the man who wrote the smart, self-aware teen horror flicks in the “Scream” series could also write “Cursed,” a film that indulges in most of the clichés that those films mocked. The twist in “Scream” was that the kids had actually seen “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” and all their spawn, and therefore knew the rules of survival. But haven’t the people in “Cursed” seen those movies, too? Or haven’t they at least seen “Scream”?

The writer in question is Kevin Williamson, who also created “Dawson’s Creek” and wrote such craptacular films as “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” and “The Faculty.” Basically, “Scream” was the quality exception to his general rule of teen-skewing mediocrity — but it was an exception directed by Wes Craven, who has also directed “Cursed.” So perhaps the pairing would again prove fortunate?

Well, let’s remember: Craven’s name is no guarantee of quality, either. Like Williamson, he is well-regarded; but like Williamson, that regard puzzles me, as quality is his occasional exception, not his rule. He only directed the first and last installments in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series; his other films have been wildly erratic and mostly schlocky. Tell me again why some people get so excited to hear he’s directing a new one, because I have forgotten.

Anyway, “Cursed” has a watered-down version of “Scream’s” self-aware attitude, with celebrity cameos and random bursts of humor mixed with the unintentionally funny “horror.” It is set in Hollywood, where Ellie (Christina Ricci) is a sober young woman with a job working on “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” (way to tap the zeitgeist, Williamson!). Her younger brother, Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), is a nerdy, friendless high school student. Since the plot has no use for Ellie and Jimmy’s parents, they are dead.

Ellie is dating a secretive, bearded man named Jake (Joshua Jackson), who is about to open a horror-themed nightclub called Tinsel and who Ellie hears is quite the womanizer, though how this can be true of a character played by Joshua Jackson, I do not know. Jimmy, meanwhile, has a crush on a nice, popular girl named Brooke (Kristina Anapau), whose jerky boyfriend, Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), taunts and abuses Jimmy.

Jake and Bo are thus marked for comeuppance when Ellie and Jimmy become … WEREWOLVES!!!!!!!! They’re driving on a forested road one night when they collide with another car, sending it off into the trees, whereupon a beast of some sort drags off the occupant and mildly injures Ellie and Jimmy in the process. They then slowly begin the process of werewolfization, developing a heightened sexual appeal, super-strength and a fondness for raw meat. Ellie, being rational and dour, does not believe in foolish things like werewolves. But Jimmy, being geeky and lonely, does.

In the tradition of the movies that “Cursed” should be much better than, there is a character early on who tells people that they are doomed — DOOMED! — if they do not heed her predictions. Often this character is an old man who’s lived in this town all his life and knows what goes on out in those woods, or whatever; here, it is a fortune teller (played by Portia de Rossi), who reads two girls’ palms and warns them of imminent werewolf-induced death. She pops up again later to warn Ellie that she, too, is in danger, though since Ellie now has pentagram-shaped zits on her palm — an indication you’ve been bitten by a werewolf — reading her palm is not much of a feat. A blind man could read a palm with five pimples on it.

The film occasionally flirts with campy inside-Hollywood humor, and that’s fine, as far as it goes. Its trouble is with the horror elements, which are exceedingly slack. Our protagonists are never in danger until the end of the film, and the “Teen Wolf” subplot isn’t really even interesting, let alone scary. The movie wanders for quite a while, seemingly unsure what it’s supposed to be doing. Exhibit A of its absent-mindedness is a looooong scene set at a PETA-sponsored Hollywood party, where Ellie meets Scott Baio and gazes longingly at the full moon. Nothing is established, no plot points are furthered, no character development is achieved. It’s just a lengthy scene in the middle of the movie that has no purpose. I wanted to snap my fingers to get the movie’s attention and say, “Movie! Over here! Focus!”

Note: “Cursed” has a WB factor of three: Milo Ventimiglia (“Gilmore Girls”), Joshua Jackson (“Dawson’s Creek”), and Michael Rosenbaum (“Smallville”). However, I am confident that if the WB Network had existed 20 years ago, Scott Baio would have appeared on it, too. So we’ll call it four.

C- (1 hr., 36 min.; PG-13, some profanity, moderate violence, brief gory violence, a little non-sexual nudity.)

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