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Columbia Pictures, Phoenix Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Official Site

Director: John Ottman

Producers: Brad Luff, Gina Matthews, Michael McDonnell, Neal H. Moritz, Nick Osborne, Richard Luke Rothschild

Written By : Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson

Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Joey Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendez, Jessica Cauffiel, Anthony Anderson, Michael Bacall, Marco Hofschneider, Loretta Devine, Hart Bochner, Peter Millard

Rating: ----

I must admit, I wasnít looking forward to this film. URBAN LEGENDS wasnít exactly hot stuff, and I contemplated suicide after seeing I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER last summer. I am pleased to say I did not go out and buy razors this time. Somehow, Phoenix Filmsí URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT manages to rise out of the ashes of the flaming failure that was the original. In fact, it joins the ranks of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, SUPERMAN II, EVIL DEAD 2, DRUNKEN MASTER 2, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, and AIR BUD 2: GOLDEN RECEIVER as that rare beingóthe sequel superior to the original.

The movie picks up at a brand new school with a brand new set of white, privileged college students. Amy Mayfield (Morrison) is a senior at Alpine University, a fictional film school. There she vies against several other students to make the best short film and win the coveted Hitchcock Award, which guarantees a big-time Hollywood directing career for the winner, and also guarantees a cavalcade of Hitchcock homages for the audience. After talking to campus security guard Reese (Devine, the only holdover from the first film), she decides to make her film about a serial killer whose murders are inspired by urban legends.

For those of you who missed URBAN LEGENDS, Reese was the single minority character, sensitively characterized entirely by her constant obsession with Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. The sequel delves more deeply into her character: This time around we learn sheís also a Coffy fan. Needless to say, members of Amyís cast and crew begin to be knocked off in ways which have less and less to do with urban legends as the movie progresses. The movie is populated by cardboard cutout characters who mainly serve as red herrings to the identity of the killer. Amy makes several very questionable judgments that conveniently move the plot forward. And the actual killerís motivations come completely out of left field during the last 15 minutes of the movie. Oh, and Joey Lawrence is in it too, and he never says "Whoa!" Not even once.

So why did I enjoy this movie? Well, for one thing, the ridiculously complex story actually holds together, and more importantly, itís aware of how silly itís being. The heroineís missteps play as intentional concessions to the teen horror genre. The regular silly "surprise" plot developments come off less as sloppy writing and more as tongue-in-cheek. And even given all of this, first-time director Ottman also consistently manages to build real moments of gut-wrenching suspense. Several cleverly staged murders had me cringing in my seat (but in a good way). The visuals are stylish, the editing suspenseful, and the setting unique and moody. The architecture of the campus on which it was shot, Trent University in Ontario, is a refreshing departure from the faux-Ivy League look that populates these films.

As for the cast, they tackle their shallow parts with the kind of gusto that can only from knowing their careers will sink like stones if they donít put out. The standout performer is definitely Jennifer Morrison as the heroine-in-distress, although she also had the most to work with. And I gotta say, Joey Lawrence was raptastic.

On a side note, John Ottman served as director, editor, and original music composer. The only other director/composers I know of are John Carpenter and Hal Hartley, and I always found Carpenterís scores especially charming (e.g., HALLOWEEN, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Unlike his predecessors, Ottman heretofore has solely been a film composer (hear THE USUAL SUSPECTS and APT PUPIL, among others). So it was a letdown that his music here is so generic. A small consolation is the way in which the movie uses source music to increase tension. One character whistles "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (the creepy music child murderer Peter Lorre whistles in M) in the dark while being stalked; the killer stands at a grand piano and hits a low note over and over, unaware that Amy is hiding right underneath. That one actually gave me chills.

But of course URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT canít escape the limitations of its dying genre. Itís still inescapably shallow. Itís also good fun. If youíre in the mood for yet another Self-Referential Teen Horror Film, this oneís definitely better than most. Worth a matinee, if only to see a good one before they all die off.

—QUIN ARBEITMAN: Thespian Extraordinaire

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

- Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

- Itís worth a full-price ticket.

- Itís worth a matinee ticket.

- Wait for video rental.

- Check out the video from the library, if you must.

- While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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