[Screen It]

(2000) (Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis) (R)

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Horror: A film school student finds that her classmates, as well as the cast and crew of her horror film about urban legends, are the targets of a serial killer.
Amy Mayfield (JENNIFER MORRISON) is a film student who's having a problem coming up with the story for her final project. After meeting campus security guard Reese (LORETTA DEVINE) who tells her she'd make a film about urban legends, Amy decides to do just that, impressing her instructor, Professor Solomon (HART BOCHNER), with her idea.

Competing against several other students, including Travis (MATTHEW DAVIS), Toby (ANSON MOUNT) and Graham (JOSEPH LAWRENCE), for the prestigious Hitchcock award that all but ensures a future in Hollywood, Amy begins shooting her film, but her help isn't exactly stellar. Her main actress, Sandra (JESSICA CAUFFIEL), isn't any good, while her props and special effects men, Stan (ANTHONY ANDERSON) and Dirk (MICHAEL BACALL), are the epitome of film geeks.

When Toby quits as her cinematographer, Travis finds a replacement cameraman, Simon (MARCO HOFSCHNEIDER), for her, while her boom operator, Vanessa (EVA MENDES), seems just as interested in women as she does film. Then there's Kevin (DEREK AASLAND), the reserved production assistant whose applications to the film school have been repeatedly turned down.

As Amy starts her shoot, various members of her cast and crew meet untimely demises, although no one, including Reese, believes her theory that a serial murderer is at large. When Travis' twin brother, Trevor (MATTHEW DAVIS), finally arrives and backs up her beliefs, the two of them set out to discover the killer's identity before he strikes again.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
In the latest slasher flick to "grace" the silver screen, the film's protagonist - a young and aspiring filmmaker - tells her professor that she's finally come up with an idea for her senior thesis project. In short, she's going to make a horror and suspense thriller where the serial killer's MO is that he kills people along the lines of various urban legends.

It was at that pivotal point in both the film and that character's filmmaking career that I kept waiting, hoping and praying that her professor would tell her that the genre was dead and that, in fact, that plot had already been done in 1998's appropriately titled, "Urban Legends."

Alas, he doesn't, and the result is "Urban Legends: Final Cut," the dreadful follow-up to the not-so-successful-it-deemed-a-sequel film that at least breathed a tiny bit of life and originality - the copying or urban legends angle - into a genre that ran its course a long time ago. Of course, that film seems like Oscar worthy material when compared to this ridiculous, poorly made and unimaginative waste of celluloid.

While I can appreciate the idea of someone finally having enough sense (however deranged) to try to put an end to those who make such bad films, and I understand and recognize the film within a film context and "insider" references, this film isn't remotely close to the original "Scream" in that regard and simply comes off as yet another tired retreading of the masked killer chasing and killing his young prey plot.

Speaking of masks, the killer here wears - prepare yourself for the shocking and horrifying revelation - a fencer's mask while doing his handiwork. Boy, that's scary. Perhaps in the next film the killer will don a football helmet, or maybe a baseball cap to induce fear into those unfortunate enough to be in his presence - and I'm talking about the audience members.

In essence, the film is just another lame slasher picture where attractive young people of both sexes are killed one by one and the audience must try to guess the killer's identity from the usual suspects who have their own, potentially homicidal motives. Is it the security guard who's upset about her reassignment and always manages to be just around the corner of the latest incident, or is it any number of student filmmakers who are competing to win a prestigious film school award?

Or is it the twin brother of a victim who suddenly shows up in the most soap opera-ish of ways and is never seen by anyone but the protagonist who doesn't have the wherewithal to question that he might just be the original and presumably dead brother? Then there's the bored film school professor, the lesbian boom operator and a whole slew of other potential suspects who are supposed to keep us guessing until their numbers are whittled down to the exciting, gripping and revelatory conclusion.

The only problem is, we don't care. Since we barely know and certainly don't sympathize with any of the sketchily drawn, one-dimensional characters, and due to the obvious and predictable red herrings and various jump scenes that are telegraphed to viewers, the film never engages the audience on any level (other than how often one can shift in their seat waiting for the torture to end). Consequently, it sparks zero interest in ascertaining the killer's identity or who the next victim might be.

This film even jettisons most of what made the first film partially interesting and gave both it and this sequel its title, and that's those urban legends. Since the filmmakers - director John Ottman (the composer/editor for "The Usual Suspects" and "Apt Pupil") and screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman & Scott Derrickson (marking their first produced screenplay) -- obviously believed they needed a "name" franchise to work from, I suppose that explains this particular sequel.

Yet, with most of the urban legends being used in the first film, only a few new ones are present here (including a gruesome one that's designed solely for shock value). As such, the filmmakers then turn to many repetitious "cat and mouse" sequences, where the killer chases the protagonist and/or next victim, to fill up its ninety-some minute runtime. While they may prove to be exciting and scary to those who are new to the genre or who have low tolerance levels for such material, it's just more of the same old, same old for the rest of us.

From the opening horror scene that's supposed to surprise audiences by its sudden revelation to another where the protagonist manages to find herself being pursued through the obligatory steam tunnels, and then one set in, of all places, an odd mining-themed amusement park ride that just so happens to be nearby the film school, the film simply never works.

The characters are flat, their motivation and behavior is questionable when not stupid, and the eventual revelation of the killer's MO is simply dumb and certainly not very imaginative. Jennifer Morrison, who was far more frightening as the little seen ghost in "Stir Of Echoes" than all of this movie combined, gets the most screen time as the protagonist, but is probably the least engaging "damsel in distress" type character I've ever seen.

The rest of the performers and the characters they play pretty much blend together into one unremarkable bunch. While some viewers will recognize the likes of Anthony Anderson ("Me, Myself & Irene"), Jessica Cauffiel ("Road Trip"), Loretta Devine (who reprises her security guard role from the original "Urban Legends") and Hart Bochner (the smarmy coworker in "Die Hard"), the rest of the performers are new or relatively new - meaning they're inexpensive - and none make much of an impression, although Eve Mendes ("A Night at the Roxbury") bears a striking resemblance to a young Gina Gershon.

Simply put, one can only hope that the second part of this film's title is indicative of the state of this franchise. Since the first one didn't make gobs of money and considering how lame this one turned out to be, our wish might just come true. Poorly conceived and executed in nearly every realm of filmmaking, "Urban Legends: Final Cut" deserves to meet its own unique style of serial killer - a moviegoing audience that kills such films by refusing to see them. This lame and boring picture rates as just a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed September 18, 2000 / Posted September 22, 2000

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