Friday the 13th (2009)

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Its impressive capacity for producing lucrative sequels notwithstanding, the original “Friday the 13th,” from 1980, was a lousy movie. A blatant rip-off of “Halloween,” it suffered from shoddy production values and dimwitted plotting. People liked it, though, and the sequels rewarded them by providing more of the exact same thing. The only significant variations were the methods by which the randy teenagers were dispatched, and the degree to which we were irritated by those characters and eager to see their demise.

The remake is superior to the original series mostly in technical ways: better editing, better acting, better overall craftsmanship. Fans will be comforted to know that the basic story is unchanged, with all the archetypes intact. People are murdered during or immediately after sex; people volunteer to go look for something in a dark, creepy shed; there’s a local old-timer who warns the kids to stay away from that cursed camp or they’ll be sorry; the killer has a supernatural ability to appear suddenly and surprise victims, except for the times when he’s easily befuddled and outmaneuvered; etc. The major selling point is, as ever, the creativity and gruesomeness of the idiot teenagers’ deaths.

Strictly speaking, it’s not a remake of the 1980 film. It’s actually more of a sequel to it, remaining faithful to its story (even the date it took place on: June 13, 1980) and picking things up many years later. In the 25-minute prologue — yes, the film is nearly a third over before the title appears — a group of libidinous teens and their nerdy, asexual friend are stalked by a masked figure while searching the forest for a legendary secret marijuana crop. (Weed plays a major role in this film, with more screen time than several of the actors.) That masked figure, as the movie counts on you already knowing, is Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears), a hulking, silent, deformed maniac with a hood covering his face. Don’t worry, the hood is temporary; the film knows we’re eager to see the iconic moment when he replaces it with a hockey mask.

Several weeks later, a decent young man named Clay (Jared Padalecki) comes to Crystal Lake looking for his sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti), one of the teens who disappeared after that prologue. Clay runs into another batch of young people, this time staying at the lakeside cabin owned by one of their parents. You’ve got your token black guy (Arlen Escarpeta), your comic-relief Asian stoner (Aaron Yoo), a couple of slutty chicks (Julianna Guill and Willa Ford), a devil-may-care jock (Ryan Hansen), a rich jerk (Travis Van Winkle), and the nice girl (Danielle Panabaker) who can befriend Clay. People go missing; killarity ensues.

It’s directed by Marcus Nispel, who made the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake in 2003, and written by “Freddy vs. Jason” scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. Unlike Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” reboot two years ago, which sought to completely redo everything from the ground up, this “Friday the 13th” is respectful of its origins, almost to a fault. After the thousandth lingering shot of the battered “Camp Crystal Lake” sign I wondered if Nispel still expected us to be thrilled by it. (We get it, buddy. We’re watching a “Friday the 13th” movie.)

So is it good? Well, no, of course not. These things rarely are. As Devin Faraci of CHUD.com writes in his recent fine analysis of the slasher genre, audiences don’t come to a “Friday the 13th” movie expecting anything more than some creative kills, some gratuitous boobs, and maybe — MAYBE — a little spookiness and tension. Those are the elements that make a slasher film “good,” and this one has them, more or less. It’s one of the better-made examples of its genre — but that doesn’t make it a good movie, just a good slasher movie. But then you ask, “Well, if it does a good job of what it set out to do, doesn’t it deserve a better grade?” And I respond, “Not if I say it doesn’t.” YA BURNT!

C (1 hr., 37 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, a lot of nudity, some very strong sexuality and vulgar dialogue, abundant violence and blood.)

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