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Ghost Ship (R)
Official Site
Director: Steve Beck
Producers: Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Gilbert Adler
Written by: Mark Hanlon and John Pogue
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington

Rating: out of 5

There comes a day when you’re too big to don a superhero outfit and hit up your neighbors for candy, and too old to get sloppy-drunk enough to hit on your pals. When that day comes, your only reason to look forward to Halloween is for a passably decent horror flick. And from the trailer, you’d think Ghost Ship might deliver. It should have everything going for it—a decent cast, a high-concept story (the title has been used at least twice before), nifty opening credits in a swirly-girly pink font that suggests a hint of camp forthcoming. But there’s the dark side, as in its production company, Dark Castle Entertainment, created by Silver and Zemeckis to carry on the legacy of horrormeister William Castle. Apparently without thought as to whether that legacy ought to be perpetuated, Dark Castle Entertainment has been remaking screamers like 13 Ghosts and House On Haunted Hill. Ghost Ship is the company’s first original-story, if we can call it that, horror film.

The rough-and-ready crew of the salvage boat Arctic Warrior is decompressing in a bar after a lucrative job, when Ferriman (Harrington), the proverbial complete stranger offers to cut them in on the ground floor of what could be a really big score. If your alarm bells don’t ring when well-spoken strangers appear out of the blue with multi-million-dollar deals, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in. Captain Murphy (Byrne), his partner Epps (Margulies), and the rest of the brave and gallant crew ship out, with Ferriman along as guide. The unidentified floating object turns out to be the Antonia Graza, a luxury liner that disappeared in the early 1960s, a salvager’s definition of bootylicious. If all goes well, everyone is about to become very, very rich. But of course, all does not go well. And I, who so very much wanted to like this movie, could not give two shits.

The essential building blocks of a horror movie are dread, mystery, and empathy for the characters. Gore and gotcha help, but reflect back, for example, on M, an exemplary horror film, and you’ll see that gore and gotcha are nice, not necessary. This story builds no dread whatsoever, though it does dole out some inventive gore and plenty of gotcha. No surprise there; Steve Beck was a visual effects wiz (The Abyss, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade) before he was a director. The screenwriters throw in a kid, a stock ploy to ramp up the sympathy/peril index, but it’s clear here that the kid is in no danger, so what’s that about? There’s no mystery about the fate of the passengers and crew of the Antonia Graza; we’re shown that in the first minutes of Ghost Ship. It remains for the characters to discover what happened.

The crewmembers, disposable generics of the Yeoman Shmoe variety killed by the score on “Star Trek,” lack characterization almost entirely. Greer (Washington), whose wedding is mere days away, tries to be a do-right guy, but that’s about as deep as it gets. The lead here is Margulies, and her Epps has such nice characterizations, aside from the misstep of some initial lame, tough-babe dialogue, that she’s almost out of place in this stinker. Epps is a woman holding her own in a male-dominated profession. She’s proficient and she’s a leader of men. She has a full complement of fears—both the garden-variety ones and the completely understandable fear of the weirdnesses going down on the ship. But she’s able to show those fears and then do what has to be done. And once she discovers the bad guy, a soul salvager whose identity was IMed to us way early in the movie, she gets her mind around the problem without any time-wasting breaks to adjust to the new world order. The screenwriters must have been thinking of Ripley when they wrote this rather full-fleshed horror heroine role. Epps is the best of Ghost Ship. But we don’t spend $7.75 to see someone workshop their script, now do we?

Gabriel Byrne brings a certain gravity to whatever he’s in, which means it’s like he’s in a whole ’nother movie from everyone else. Margulies give a pretty good performance, considering the material. She should really seek out more of these butch-lite roles; they suit her. Then there a couple of things, probably caviling, but… There’s the scene where you’ll go, “Oh no. How come a brother always got to be the first to die?” Then, guess what? He doesn’t die. Another person of color dies. Gosh. We’re movin’ on up? There’s some cheesy-bad “undersea adventure” music during some scenes, and some heavy metal so inappropriately placed you’ll smack your forehead in wonder. Reviewers don’t pay to see movies, but we wanted our time back. Ghost Ship, feh.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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