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(2001) (Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier) (R)

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Horror: After a group of young people buy his old house planning to turn it into a nightclub, a murdered man's spirit returns to the world of the living intent on getting his revenge on those who killed him.
Back in 1979, Jimmy Bones (SNOOP DOGG) was a well-loved and revered protector of his urban domain. Unfortunately for him, he was betrayed and brutally murdered by a group of men - local corrupt cop Lupovitch (MICHAEL T. WEISS), drug dealer Eddie Mack (RICKY HARRIS) and good friend Jeremiah (CLIFTON POWELL) - who then buried him and thus proof of their deed in the sub-basement of his brownstone.

Now, more than two decades later, Bones' former residence is just a shadow of its former glory, and all of the neighborhood kids know the legend of Jimmy Bones, and to stay away from the building. They're not alone as Pearl (PAM GRIER), Jimmy's former lover, and Shotgun (RONALD SELMOUR), his right-hand man, are also wary of the place and the various sightings of a large black dog with glowing red eyes that roams about the place.

None of that stops Jeremiah's adult kids -- Patrick (KHALIL KHAN) and Bill (MERWIN MONDESIR) - their stepsister Tia (KATHARINE ISABELLE), or friend Maurice (SEAN AMSING), however, from buying the place and planning to turn it into a popular nightclub.

As the small group moves into the dilapidated building to fix it up before the grand opening - unbeknownst to Jeremiah or the others involved in the past wrongdoing - they ignore warnings from Shotgun and Pearl, the latter whose adult daughter, Cynthia (BIANCA LAWSON), has taken a sudden liking to Kevin.

Despite various odd visions, occurrences and the unearthing of Jimmy's skeletal remains, the group sticks with their plans, only to discover that their actions have now resurrected Bones who then sets out to get his revenge on both those who are trespassing on his property and wronged him in the past.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I'm not sure to whom or which movie the blame can be traced back to, but whoever first introduced blood, guts and gore to the horror genre should either be ashamed or saddened by their continued, overabundant and overzealous use in today's films.

Granted, a great deal of similar, real-life violence is appropriately gruesome, disturbing or shocking, and was probably so in the first such film to show that sort of material and then each subsequent one that upped the carnage-based ante. Yet, while the squeamish might still be affected by it, the fact that we've seen so much blood and gore in the intervening years has greatly diminished their effect on us.

That sort of use - particularly when copious or heavy - also shows a lack of confidence or skill on a filmmaker's part to scare his or her audience via more intelligent or clever ways. Such is the case with "Bones," the latest film to rely far too much on ineffective effects as well as quick cuts and bizarre camera angles and shots rather than good old-fashioned filmmaking smarts.

Noted for being the feature film debut of rapper turned actor Snoop Dogg in a leading role - even if he isn't much more than a major supporting character until near the end - the film is filled with all sorts of blood, goo and gore. Unfortunately, but probably not that surprisingly, it's not effective in eliciting the goosebumps. In addition, said effects don't particularly look realistic, if one can label such visceral mayhem that way without ever having really been exposed to it in real life.

Working from a script by Adam Simon ("Brain Dead," "Carnosaur") & Tim Metcalfe ("Kalifornia," "Iron Maze"), director Ernest Dickerson ("Bulletproof," "Surviving the Game") takes us down the well-worn path of a vengeful spirit getting his revenge on those who've wronged him or are trespassing on his property that- not unexpectedly -- also turns out to be his final resting grounds.

Accordingly, there's a plethora of scenes involving people in the deceased's now dilapidated abode, with most of them initially being oblivious to the supernatural menace lurking and looming about them. In true horror movie mode, that quickly disappears when the intended victim turns around or opens their eyes (I've never understood why that occurs at first, and then stops, but it's a given in such films).

Some of those moments, even if lacking in originality or common sense, work decently. Thus, it's a shame that Dickerson then resorts to many old tired conventions - all of the aforementioned blood and gore, the ghost's roving point of view, etc. - that simply aren't that scary due to their setup and execution as well as the fact that we've seen them all before.

The filmmakers also attempt to keep things interesting for a while by slowly revealing the characters' connections with each other and the victim through the use of various period flashbacks to the late '70s. While Dickerson and his team get the look down right - at least in emulating the aura of urban/blaxploitation films of the time -- the various facts are too easy to figure out, aren't as shocking as apparently intended, and the flashbacks interrupt the supernatural/horror rhythm and pacing. "The Changeling," a similar but far superior film dealing with buried past misdeeds, handles such material in a far more effective and convincing manner.

Of course, when Snoop Dogg ("Training Day," "Half Baked") is cast as the film's vindictive, supernatural heavy, one probably isn't going for any sort of seriousness, even for films falling into this genre. While the performer clearly has a perceptible screen presence and certainly looks and acts the part in the urban flashbacks, he's not particularly terrifying, or interesting for that matter, as the vengeful and eventually reincarnated spirit. The filmmakers must have sensed that as well as there's a listing of "Bones Shadow" in the credits.

After marking the legitimate high point of her acting career in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," Pam Grier ("Ghosts of Mars," "Escape From L.A.") once again appears in another subpar, "B" flick. While she also fits in rather well during the '70s moments, she doesn't deliver a convincing performance as a psychic in the contemporary ones.

Other performers, including the likes of Clifton Powell ("Next Friday," "Rush Hour"), Ricky Harris ("Heat," "Hard Rain"), Michael T. Weiss ("Net Worth," TV's "The Pretender"), Khalil Khan ("Love Jones, "Renaissance Man") and Bianca Lawson ("Save the Last Dance," "Primary Colors"), can't do much with their parts and subsequently range from mediocre to poor, and neither their characters nor their performances do much for the film.

Featuring far too much blood, contrivances and illogical material, as well as progressively hokey developments rather than good filmmaking or even a decently innovative story, the film is perfect in one regard, and that's its title, especially since what's been delivered is just a skeletal structure void of any meaty substance, brains or heart.

Although Snoop's fans might enjoy the proceedings, even blood and gore aficionados might be disappointed by the unrealistic looking mayhem that's put on display here. Despite a few decent moments, "Bones" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed October 22, 2001 / Posted October 24, 2001

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