A fascinating train-wreck of a horror movie, Cursed squashes just about every potentially crowd-pleasing element into one storyline, with the hopes of entertaining just about anyone who might walk through the theatre door for at least 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the result is so scattered and mind-boggling that it’s difficult to enjoy the movie as anything less than a curious disaster. Packed with questionable cameos, genre cliches, moments of high camp, and just about everything else you can imagine except for scares or gore, Cursed is the proud result of what 2 years of filming, multiple recastings, and repeat trips to the cutting room can do to a concept.

The film begins as friends Shannon Elizabeth and Maya (brilliant casting choices, considering that they look almost identical next to one another) walk around the boardwalk of a carnival and stop to chat with psychic Portia de Rossi, who of course tells them that they are both cursed, or something. Maya disappears for some unknown reason and Shannon relives her “Lost Boys” fantasies by hanging out in a carnival parking lot in the middle of the night, then goes home. Meanwhile (we guess), Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) chats up Brooke (Kristina Anapau — I use these names like I know who the hell these people are) at the Hollywood Wax Museum, a detail worth forgetting, as we’re never going to see it again (although the entire 2nd act takes place in a nightclub that looks like a wax museum, but no bother…). Jimmy gets hassled by Brooke’s boyfriend Bo (MIlo Ventimiglia — again, no idea), who is apparently a professional homophobe and asshole, which Brooke doesn’t seem to mind (which should endear her to us immediately, right?). Whatever. Jimmy calls his sister, Ellie (Christina Ricci, looking like she hasn’t eaten since she starred in “The Opposite of Sex”), who is visiting her boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson, looking like he hasn’t shaved since “Dawson’s Creek”), who is preparing to open his new, stupidly-named nightclub, Tinsel (which, for some odd reason, looks like a wax museum). Ellie and Jake get into a stupid passive-aggressive argument that makes us instantly dislike the both of them, and Ellie goes to pick up Jimmy.

While on the way home, Ellie and Jimmy hit some kind of animal on the road, which makes them crash into Shannon Elizabeth and send her car rolling down a hill off Mulholland Drive. When they go to investigate, they free her from the safety belt only to see her snatched through the window by a giant wolf-thing and grab on to her, only to be pulled through the window into the brush. When they emerge, both Jimmy and Ellie are inexplicably wounded by the big animal, and Shannon is apparently torn to bits (we have to take their word for it). Jimmy and Ellie take their doggie and go home, and within 2 minutes on the internet, Jimmy has deduced that they were attacked by a werewolf and that he and Ellie may now be cursed. Well — good thing that’s out of the way! Now we can move on to the two recently-cursed kids exploring their powers and getting wolfy in all sorts of cool ways, right?

Wrong. What we get is just about every cliche imaginable, from a sudden hunger for raw meat to a heightened sense of smell (when Ellie goes sniffing around the office, it looks like something out of an Axe deodorant commercial). Jimmy uses his new prowess to… try out for the wresting team? Yeah — that’s exciting. And the effect of the curse on Ellie is that she undoes one more button on her blouse and apparently looks really, really hot (we need to be told this on-screen — by Scott Baio, of all people — as it really isn’t evident on its own). So I guess being bitten by a werewolf in Los Angeles isn’t the transformative event that it is when you’re, say, in the British moors (“An American Werewolf in London”), or even suburban Canada (“Ginger Snaps”) — here, your hair just changes a little and people hit on you more. What, no bone-crunching pain and insatiable lust for fresh blood? Hell, sign me up!

Anyway, the next night Ellie and Jake run into each other at Scott Baio’s house (and, in my favorite moment of the film, have to talk “in private” — which means walking 5 feet away from where they were standing, in the middle of a crowded party), and who should appear but Maya, who famously disappeared at the carnival the night before and is now dressed as a leopard. She seems absolutely unfazed by the fact that her “best friend” died the night before, and sets out to get Jake in bed — Jesus, these L.A. women are vicious, eh? But she gets nowhere with Jake (nor does resident bitch Judy Greer, as a nasty publicist and ex-fling of Jake), and decides to go home. Unfortunately, our resident wolf is waiting for her in the parking garage, and in the movie’s only genuinely scary scene, she gets chased by the hairy beastie throughout the garage and into an elevator. This is fun, scary stuff — the kind of stuff I was expecting to fill the entire film. But no — enjoy this scene while it lasts, because it’s all downhill from here. Soon we’ll slip into CGI were-dogs (the horror film equivalent of the Dancing Baby), more jaw-dropping cameos (Lance Bass! Craig Kilborn! What, was Macy Gray busy?), several painfully obvious plot “twists” (here’s a hint — remember the twist in “Scream”? Well, apparently it was good enough to use again!), a few (very few) bloodless attacks (these are the tidiest werewolves I’ve ever seen), more Portia de Rossi (who can apparently appear at will like the guy from the Verizon commercials), and a painfully dull climax that wraps all the loose ends neatly in a bow and lets our heroes walk off into the moonlight, smiling wisely at the trials they’ve just endured.

As they might say in California, “gag me”.

Let’s ignore for a minute the fact that certain scenes look like they were stitched together from seven different movies. Let’s ignore the fact that Christina Ricci’s hairline moves entire inches from shot to shot. Let’s even ignore Michael Rosenbaum’s wig, which is so horrifying that I thought for a moment that it was the werewolf. Let’s ignore the multitude of red herrings and the fact that no characters in the film act like normal people at any point in the story (the nonchalant way in which everyone reacts to the horrible mauling and death of Shannon Elizabeth is absolutely terrifying). Let’s ignore the painfully unfunny gay subplot (yes, the homophobe ends up being gay — how brilliant! You’d think that Kevin Williamson had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer 6 years ago, when the exact same storyline was used — in a werewolf episode!), and the groan-inducing campy elements (the scene that takes place in front of wax statues of Cher and Celine Dion is like something out of a Will and Grace episode). These things we can overlook. But what can’t be ignored is the fact that the main characters are completely unlikable — aside from Jimmy (who, at least, is young — so you can forgive some of his stupid behavior), the entire cast behaves like idiots. Christina Ricci must have prepared for the role by watching a lot of made-for-Sci-Fi originals — while I usually enjoy her performances, here she just squints and bitches a lot. In fact, all of the dialogue scenes look like they came straight out of an episode of Stargate SG-1 — they’re stunted, cheap-looking, and painfully uninteresting. Whereas “Scream” was a showcase for Kevin Williamson’s clever dialogue and satirical humor, here the writing is like regurgitated evening soap opera piffle. I don’t know if it was just hastily thrown down to tie together the major set pieces together after the majority of the film was re-shot, but whatever the cause, it’s just awful.

I kind of have to stop there to avoid revealing who the “mystery” werewolf (or werewolves) is (are), but it’s pretty obvious if you’ve seen the commercials and pay any attention to the agonizingly dull relationship dialogue. But they had lost me by the time we got to the finale anyway — without an interesting character to cling to or enough scary sequences to keep things moving, the film feels like a series of curveballs being thrown at the audience in an attempt to confuse them into thinking that there’s more going on than bad dialogue. I for one am very disappointed that the team who brought us the fun, clever, and scary slasher send-up ten years ago could deliver such a derivative, redundant, and wholly unengaging werewolf ripoff. Rent “The Howling” instead.

Official Score