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(2003) (Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger) (R)

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Horror: Nightmare-based serial killer Freddy Krueger resurrects fellow killer Jason Voorhees in hopes that the latter's actions will make survivors remember and thus empower Freddy to return to his murderous ways.
It's been a quite a while since ghostly serial killer Freddy Krueger (ROBERT ENGLUND) terrorized the kids and teens on Elm Street. Since he operates and kills through dreams, the powers that be decided to lock away any survivors - including Will (JASON RITTER) and Mark (BRENDAN FLETCHER) - in a psychiatric ward with dream-retarding drugs so that they can't empower the killer by resurrecting memories of his murderous deeds.

That doesn't sit well with Freddy who then decides to dig up fellow serial killer Jason Voorhees (KEN KIRZINGER) in hopes that his new killings will make the locals remember Freddy and thus allow him to return into others' dreams.

With Jason killing again, Freddy starts terrorizing the likes of Will's former girlfriend, Lori (MONICA KEENA), and her friends, Kia (KELLY ROWLAND) and Gibb (KATHERINE ISABELLE), and their acquaintances, including Linderman (CHRISTOPHER GEORGE MARQUETTE) and Freeburg (KYLE LABINE).

Yet, as Deputy Stubbs (LOCHLYN MUNRO) and others try to put a stop to the killings, Freddy soon learns that Jason does not intend to step back into the shadows. All of which leads to a battle of epic proportions between the two serial killers who seemingly can't be killed.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
"In this corner, weighing in at maybe 160 pounds soaking wet, the master of unconscious mayhem, straight from the spooky suburbs around Elm Street, Freddy The Nightmare Krooooogerrrrrrrr. And in the other corner, weighing in at more than 220 bulky pounds, the strong but silent type from the depths of Camp Crystal Lake, it's Jason I Hate Fridays Vorheeeeeeeeees. You know their strengths, you know their weaknesses, so let's get ready to ruuuuuumbllllllle."

If that sound of that has you salivating you 1) should get out more, 2) probably watch too much professional wrestling and 3) perhaps will enjoy the much ballyhooed clash of the serial killer titans, "Freddy vs. Jason."

With Jason having ten films under his belt and Freddy with seven, these characters certainly aren't slasher amateurs. That's clearly what New Line Cinema is banking on with this matchup that harkens back to the old days of Hollywood (and Toho Studios) when they pitted their movie monsters against each other (with "Godzilla vs. King Kong" presumably being the ultimate heavyweight bout).

Of course, with both series mostly being dormant the past few years - notwithstanding the instantly forgettable and mostly overlooked "Jason X" - and none of them generating any significant coin in a long time, such a cinematic gimmick could be a risky gamble. Then again, with few recognizable performers - save for Robert Englund reprising his Freddy role and Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child as a potential victim - and a collection of filmmakers who hopefully weren't paid too much for their work (based on the results), the effort probably won't have to make much to break even.

As penned by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (making their collective debut) and directed by Ronny Yu ("Formula 51," "Bride of Chucky"), the film is exactly what you'd expect considering the circumstances. Initially clever to a degree in a self-mocking sort of way, the film features lots of hacking and bloodletting (and scantly clad or nude women), but few if any truly scary moments as it goes through its predictable motions.

The pivotal battle, however, doesn't occur until well in the third act by which time most diehard fans will be getting mighty antsy and everyone else will be bored to tears. That's due to an unnecessarily convoluted plot that tries its best to introduce, explain and prepare us for the matchup.

Then there's the overall victim element that eats up a lot of screen time without much of a payoff. Since the characters and their stories aren't remotely interesting and we know that most of them will be dead in short order anyway, that ultimately doesn't amount to much. Even the old standby of trying to guess the order of the killings or who will survive at the end has lost much of its original luster.

Once the battle begins, things briefly get more interesting. That's not because we wonder which character will win. Since neither has remained dead after 17 collective appearances, and New Line obviously hopes to profit off further appearances by one or both characters, the odds of either really "losing" are nonexistent.

Instead, it's from wondering how the two distinctively different characters will fight since one is dream-based and the other works in reality. Despite both getting a chance to battle on their own turf, Yu doesn't do much of anything interesting or engaging with the goods (and his attempt at introducing some martial arts style material falls completely flat).

Thus, what we get is just an increasingly graphic and brutal bloodbath that - pun intended - amounts to overkill. Such mayhem isn't even as much "fun" (in a macabre, black comedy sort of fashion) as the shocking incidents in the "Final Destination" films.

Critiquing performers in a film like this is the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, so the less said the better (particularly regarding the bland victims). Since Jason is masked the entire time, it doesn't really make any difference that stuntman Ken Kirzinger has replaced Kane Hodder, but Englund doesn't seem to be having as much twisted fun playing Freddy as he once did.

Maybe it's because he's tired and getting too old for such cinematic silliness. Both conditions certainly apply to both series and their collective meeting here. With only a smattering of creativity but a whole lot of mindless and eventually numbing mayhem, "Freddy vs. Jason" isn't exactly the "Thrilla in Manila." Instead, it's more like "Vexed at the 'Plex" where everybody loses. It rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed August 11, 2003 / Posted August 15, 2003

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