[Screen It]

(2003) (Jonathan Breck, Ray Wise) (R)

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Horror: A father seeks revenge on the monster that killed his son, all while a group of high school students must evade its attacks while trapped in a broken down school bus on a desolate country road at night.
Every 23 years, a deadly, winged creature known as The Creeper (JONATHAN BRECK) emerges from the Earth and feeds for 23 days. On the twenty-second, farmer Jack Taggart (RAY WISE) loses his young son to the monster and vows to get his revenge along with his older son, Jack Jr. (LUKE EDWARDS).

As they plot their course of action, the Creeper targets a busload of high school athletes, their coaches and a few cheerleaders who are returning from a championship outing. Disabling the bus on a desolate country road by flattening some of its tires, the Creeper awaits darkness to pick out its potential victims.

Among them are Coaches Charlie Hanna (THOM GOSSOM, JR.) and Dwayne Barnes (TOM TARANTINI) and bus driver Betty (DIANE DELANO). They try to protect the likes of cheerleaders Minxie (NICKI AYCOX) and Rhonda (MARIEH DELFINO), along with members of the basketball team including "D" (GARIKAYI MUTAMBIRWA), Scott (ERIC NENNINGER), Izzy (TRAVIS SCHIFFNER), Dante (AL SANTOS), Jake (JOSH HAMMOND) and equipment manager Bucky (BILLY AARON BROWN).

As the night grows dark, however, their actions seem for naught as the Creeper picks off his victims one by one, all while terrorizing the others. With the Taggarts on the way and Minxie having dreams that inform them of what's occurring, the trapped students try to avoid becoming the Creeper's next victim.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
When it comes to horror movies, I much prefer the scares that arise from the unknown rather than some sort of unstoppable boogeyman that repeatedly pops out to make viewers jump from their seats. If handled correctly, such "jump scenes" can be fun in a cathartically reflexive way. Nevertheless, if a movie were going to try to scare me, I'd rather have that stem from psychological means rather than visceral superficiality.

The original "Jeepers Creepers" from 2001 had a good sense of the latter in its first half where the characters (and thus we) didn't know what they were dealing with. Once the cat - or in this case, the demonic locust, uh, Creeper and his modus operandi - was let out of the proverbial bag, however, the film lost that quality and quickly segued into just a modified slasher film where the killer could fly.

As all good - or in this case, mediocre - horror films will do, it spawned a sequel, resulting in this week's release of "Jeepers Creepers 2." The effort - written and directed by the returning Victor Salva ("Powder," "Rights of Passage") - takes up where the original left off in both story and style.

With only two of the 23 days left for it to pick out its victims before going into hibernation for another 23 years, the Creeper quickly gets to work, as does the film. With everything on the table and nary a surprise up its sleeve, however, the effort doesn't have many means by which to scare the viewer. Thus, it simply keeps repeating the same hunt and chase moments, run and hide material and jump scenes over and over again.

Accordingly, and like the first film, it also continually borrows from other "avoid the monster" flicks such as "Aliens," "Tremors" and "Predator," but without the finesse, flair or creativity that made them work. To make matters worse, Salva doesn't just let his simple plot run its course and accomplish its meager means.

Instead, he has to include some exposition and other explanations of what's occurring, as if any newbies will be seeing this sequel and/or the target audience really cares about such material. To add insult to injury, such moments are handled quite clumsily, with some of the info coming from a report over a police radio and the rest through some psychic dreams.

The latter are never explained and make the viewer fill in a lot of the blanks between what we see of such dreams and how the dreamer interprets them. Since all they constitute is that the creature can't be killed and is only selecting certain people as his victims, that just as easily could have been revealed through scenes showing just that.

As in most such films, one of the many problems is that most if not all of the humans are reactive rather than proactive in dealing with their problem. That prevents the viewer from being as involved in the story as he or she might have otherwise been.

More than half the plot focuses on high school students and a few adults stuck on a broken down bus on a desolate road at night. Due to their reactive status and poorly developed characteristics (most are indistinguishable from the others in concept or execution), we don't care or worry about any of them.

The rest of the film - that obviously eventually connects in with first part - follows a vengeful father - Ray Wise ("Two Can Play That Game," "Powder") in the closest thing to "real emotion"- who wants to kill the Creeper for killing his son. That then leads to a scene reminiscent of "Jaws" where he harpoons the creature, only to have it drag his truck down the road.

Alas, Wise is no Robert Shaw and Salva certainly doesn't have Spielberg's knack for storytelling. As a result, the scene turns out to be a letdown. I kept wondering why the filmmaker didn't keep going with the scene, such as having the truck pulled into a body of water or swamp with one or more people stuck inside it as it sinks and the Creeper being right there to make them think twice about escaping.

All of which leaves the monster to scare us. Despite a fearsome look and the unique ability to reconfigure his head, the character is about as frightening as Jason from the "Friday the 13th" films. If that gets your goose bumps going - as it did to some poor girl next to me who kept jumping from her seat in giddy fright - then run out to your local multiplex before this effort quickly retreats to video. For everyone else, you'll have to wait patiently with me for the next truly scary horror film. "Jeepers Creepers 2" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 26, 2003 / Posted August 29, 2003

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