'Call' thriller worth missing

DAVID SCHMEICHEL - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:32 AM ET

When acclaimed goremeister Takashi Miike released the original One Missed Call in 2003, critics couldn't figure out whether he was making sly commentary on the sad state of J-horror, or simply (pardon the pun) phoning it in.

Well, the inevitable North American remake, which opened yesterday without being pre-screened for critics (we all know what that means), isn't likely to trigger the same levels of confusion.

While the original was already an underwhelming exercise -- especially coming from the same blood-and-guts visionary responsible for Grand Guignol classics such as Audition and Ichi the Killer -- the remake is an even lamer attempt to cash in on the same ghost-in-the-machine craze that begat The Ring, The Grudge and Phone.

If you've seen the ads, then you're already up to speed on the premise: Your cellphone rings, only the timestamp is from somewhere in the near future, and the voice that leaves the message sounds suspiciously like your own.

You spend the next few days plagued by visions of icky millipedes and spooky spectres with mouths where their eyes should be, and when the time of your future-self's message rolls around, your number -- so to speak -- is up.

Even though it's not exactly the most original of plot devices (see the superior J-horror entries referenced above), the whole haunted cellphone thing should at least produce a few good scares, right?

Not here.

Instead of making the audience privy to the first phone message -- thus generating some semblance of suspense, as Miike did in the original -- director Eric Valette dispatches his first victim without explanation, serving notice he's got little up his sleeve besides a bunch of fake-outs and herky-jerky shots of creepy kids.

As the plucky co-ed whose friends keep dropping like flies, Shannyn Sossamon -- who showed so much promise in A Knight's Tale and The Rules of Attraction -- is reduced to spitting out bland genre cliches such as, "This can't be happening," while Edward Burns sinks to new levels of woodenness as the cop whose sister's death triggers the cellphone daisy-chain in the first place.

Twin Peaks veteran Ray Wise, who can currently be seen hamming it up as the Devil in the TV show Reaper, is appropriately creepy as a reality TV host looking to exploit the grisly phenomenon. But sharp-tongued standup comic Margaret Cho is woefully out of place as the de rigeur cop who refuses to believe anything is wrong. (Seriously, we kept half-expecting her to break out in one of those spot-on impressions of her mother.)

To his credit, Valette at least manages to make a bit more sense of Miike's muddled plot, which incorporates everything from asthma inhalers and hard candies to the psychological scars carried around by abuse victims. That last borrowed bit, it bears pointing out, makes Valette's remake probably the second horror movie in history to hinge on Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome.

And though he wisely includes a blackly comic shot of one victim's severed hand dead-dialing the next in line, you'll still spot the death scenes coming a mile away -- especially since you and the characters both know exactly when they're gonna happen -- plus the climax and denouement (which unfold in a burned-out hospital, natch) are even more ludicrous than the original.

We hate to recycle the same quote that many a critic will no doubt be patting themselves on the back for this morning, but given the complete lack of originality on display here, it seems only fitting: This is one call you can afford to miss.


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