The Skeleton Key

Like a bowl on gumbo left out on the sitting porch all night, The Skeleton Key is thick and tasteless. You have a better chance of swallowing stagnant Bayou water filled with fly-infested alligator feces than keeping down this creaky ghost story about soul swapping.

Dripping with Southern sentiment, The Skeleton Key makes effective use of the local Louisiana color, whitewashed by a screenplay so transparent it’s barely there. Taffy puller-writer Ehren Kruger stretches an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery so thin it loses all flavor. All that is left is a sticky veneer dotted with tank-sized plot holes. Swiss cheese holds together better than this film.

Hospice worker Caroline (Kate Hudson, looking more and more like mom Goldie Hawn) believes caring for the terminal elderly will help her deal with her own personal grief. After a favorite patient dies and no one cares, Caroline decides she needs a change of pace. She wants a job where she can bring care and dignity to the old and dying. Maybe Caroline should have taken a job as the film’s script doctor.

Against the wishes of her best friend, Caroline accepts a job in the Bayou, tending to bed-ridden stroke patient Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). The decrepit estate belongs to Ben and his wife, Violet (Diane Ladd), who is too frail to care for her ailing husband. Caroline accepts help and advice from family attorney Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), a laid back Southern gentleman who constantly reassures Caroline all is well.

Forget the house once belonged to a family who stood by as their party guests hanged and burned their black servants, and the house has been cursed ever since. Forget the fact Caroline’s master Skeleton Key opens every door but the one in the attic. Forget the warnings of seemingly everyone in town, or the assorted voodoo sundries left lying around.

The Skeleton Key is a mangy mutt whose only trick is rolling over and playing dead. The filmmakers constantly insult audience intelligence by making the characters dumber than dirt. They have to be. Caroline would have to be in a coma not to see or understand the malevolence surrounding her. Hudson’s Caroline is sweet and sincere, but she’s not very smart. Red flags go up so fast and so often you wonder if Caroline is also sight impaired. By the time her dim-witted character finally catches on, Hudson is no longer effective. All we want is for Caroline to accept her fate and move on. Please.

Dumbo GumboTurning That Voodoo They Do Into Doo-Doo

The Skeleton Key

Kate Hudson, Diane Ladd, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt. Directed by Iain Softley. Rated PG-13. 111 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $3.00

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