Urban Legend

Poor Natalie is having a bad day. Her best friend Michelle from high school has been decapitated by a madman hiding in the backseat of her car. Another friend found his precious pup baked in the microwave before having Pop Rocks and Drain-o shoved down his throat.


Then there was her amorous friend who parked out in the middle of nowhere, left to take a leak, and then wound up hanging from a tree above the car, his feet scratching at the roof.

aliciaDon’t forget about her college roommate, who is murdered in the next bed while Natalie sleeps. Boy, those sorority initiations are getting tougher all the time. If they sound like stories you’ve heard before, you’re right. They’re called urban legends, folklore that has become so wide spread and so well known that it seems like truth.

The lady who found a fried rat in her bucket of chicken. The celebrity who experimented with little furry rodents and lost one where the sun don’t shine. We’ve all heard them, and some of us have passed them off experiences that have happened to someone we know, or to the friend of a friend. You know, my brother has a friend whose sister works as the night nurse at the local hotel, and she was the one who admitted the celebrity with the gerbil problem.

Truth is, none of it ever happened. It was just an “Urban Legend.” That’s the premise of a new film that tries desperately to ride on the same wave as “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” but drowns in the process.

“Urban Legend” is so predictable and pedestrian you wonder why they even made it. There are no surprises in “Urban Legend.” It’s a horror-thriller that’s light on both. It features the second string of young, freshly scrubbed television stars hoping to make it big in the movies. No Neve Campbell here. Nope.

The heroine is Alicia Witt, who did some fine work on “Cybill.” She plays the distraught Natalie, who suspects that an incident in her past has come back to haunt here. Duh! As the film begins, Natalie’s ex-best high school friend Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner in what has become known as the “Janet Leigh” role) becomes the first victim. Stupid Michelle. She got in to her car without looking in the backseat. Don’t all college coeds realize that is where the killer hides? She deserved to lose her head.

Bad news for Natalie. Great news for Paul (Jared Leto), the Woodward-Bernstein of the college paper who needs a big story to push him in to the big time. Paul runs with the madman on campus story, upsetting the administration, including Dean Adams (John Neville, obviously here to draw “The X-Files” fan base).

Adams fears that the story will draw parallels to a nasty incident that happened on campus exactly 25 years ago to the day, where a teacher went berserk and killed several students and himself. The student body could care less, and have even scheduled a party to celebrate the anniversary of the event. Now if that isn’t asking for trouble, I don’t know what it.

Natalie begins to suspect that someone is duplicating the urban legend killings in order to get to her. There’s a reason for this, but it’s so illogical and silly it’s not worth bringing up.

There’s always a reason in films like this, and it usually involved the hero/heroine doing something stupid that leads to the accidental death of an innocent person, who just happens to have a brother-sister- mother-father-spouse-boyfriend-or girlfriend eager to revenge the act.

In “Friday the 13th,” camp counselors played roast the hot dog while a young Jason Vorhees drowned, sending his mother into a murderous rampage. In “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” a group of teens accidentally plow into a man on a mountain road, and then dump his supposedly dead body into the ocean. Always check for a pulse, people.

“Urban Legend” is all style and no substance under first time director Jamie Blanks. He gives great atmosphere, but can’t make any sense out of Silvio Horta’s lame script. The film is seat at one of those stately New England universities that is conveniently surrounded by a dense forest. It’s also conveniently vacant most of the time. Perfect trappings for a serial killer run amok.

Blanks’ idea of suspense is have the characters bump in to each other. You know that old trick, where they turn around for one second to see if anyone is behind them, and when they turn back they walk in to someone or something? The only thing Blanks doesn’t do is throw a cat into the frame.

The cast is okay, but there’s no much required of them. Leto is handsome, and it’s hard to ignore those “Bambi” eyes. Yet there’s something strangely remote about his performance. The same goes for Witt, who is forced to utter some of the film’s worst dialogue.

Loretta Devine is a lot of fun as the school security guard who emulates “Foxy Brown,” while Rebecca Gayheart surprises no one with her best friend-worst enemy routine. Robert Englund (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) pops up briefly as the professor who worships the urban legend course he teaches.

Filled with false starts, false hopes and lots of unnecessary red herrings, “Urban Legend” feels more like a direct-to-video effort than a major studio one. It should wind up on video almost as fast.

“URBAN” LEADEN

URBAN LEGEND

Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Loretta Devine, Danielle Harris, Robert Englund and Natasha Gregson Wagner in a film directed by Jamie Blanks. Rated R. 90 Min.

LARSEN RATING: $2



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