DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
RING, THE (director: Gore Verbinski; screenwriters: Ehren Kruger/from a novel by Kôji Suzuki/from the 1998 screenplay of Hiroshi Takahashi's "Ringu"; cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli; editor: Craig Wood; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Naomi Watts (Rachel Keller), Brian Cox (Richard Morgan), Martin Henderson (Noah), Rachael Bella (Becca), David Dorfman (Aidan), Amber Tamblyn (Katie), Daveigh Chase (Samara Morgan), Lindsay Frost (Ruth), Jane Alexander (Dr. Grasnik), Shannon Cochran (Anna Morgan), Sandra Thigpen (Teacher); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Walter F. Parkes/Laurie MacDonald; DreamWorks; 2002)

 
"The Ring just left me cold and wet like I was out in the Seattle drizzle without rainwear."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dull-witted horror by-the-numbers film, which leaves the less-than-sincere message that you better communicate with your kids and not try to shut them out of your life or you'll be sorry. It's a Hollywood remake by director Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican"/ "Mouse Hunt") of the Japanese box office hit. It makes for a lot of creepy moments and fills the screen with a few grisly images and all kinds of symbols---from a vortex to a lighthouse -- but it hardly registers as a cohesive horror film.

The Ring is adapted from the novel by Kôji Suzuki and from the 1998 screenplay of Hiroshi Takahashi's "Ringu," with the screenwriter from "Arlington Road," Ehren Kruger, working on the screenplay for this American version. He somehow couldn't translate what made it so appealing to a Japanese audience transfer over to an American. Maybe it's a cultural thing that comes into play. But, the huge plot holes and the poor storytelling made this film a creepy watch but not in the way the filmmaker intended it to be--those in the audience where I saw it cackled unmercifully with laughter at how ridiculous all the familiar scare techniques would suddenly appear as the background music picked up its beat. It's a great looking film consisting of a spooky atmosphere and moody shots of fog and a constant drizzle, but those effective visual effects are not enough to make this poorly scripted film into a successful ghost story.

Borrowed from the Japanese success in making the enigmatic "The Ring" and two other sequels, is the premise—a haunted videocassette that curses the viewer to a sudden death in seven days. The film aims to leave one puzzled rather than explore the depths of its subject matter or go down the road for a possible philosophical explanation. That left the film's twisted ending dangling out in left field with a creepy look on its kisser as if it were hoping for a possible American sequel, but with a tale that seemed to have no logic or coherence or real horror or need for there to be a sequel. Everything about the meandering story was taken down an aimless path, so it should be of no surprise that the story was trapped at the end in its own literary confusions. It wanted so much to be eerie like "The Blair Witch Project"--and to get the same results in the box office.

The workaholic single-mom investigative reporter for a leading Seattle newspaper, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), and her disturbingly introverted elementary school son Aidan (David Dorfman), are confronted by a concerned teacher that Aidan has drawn his favorite cousin Kate dead seven days ago even though the high school student died only three days ago. The teach suggests mom better start communicating with her son. When Kate's parents request that Rachel do her reporting thing and sniff out how a healthy 16-year-old could die a natural death with a startled look of horror on her face, Rachel begins by questioning several of her niece's friends--including Becca (Rachael Bella), who also saw the tape and as a result ended up in the loony bin but oddly enough was not killed. Rachel visits the same mountain resort inn Kate and her boyfriend were at and steals the videotape they watched. Rachel starts believing that the videotape really is lethal when she learns the boyfriend committed suicide at the same hour Kate did.

Rachel watches the tape and gets her ex-boyfriend, the father of Aidan, a slacker named Noah (Martin Henderson), who happens to be a video techie geek to help decipher how the tape was made and what it's all about. Not only do they see the tape, but Aidan also does when she carelessly leaves such a dangerous item casually around the house (Give me a break!). Thereby all three parties are supposedly doomed in seven days, unless Rachel can track down the mystery of the tape.

Rachel counts down the days to her demise while she does her Nancy Drew thing by researching at the library, checking hospital records and at the archives for clues. But the story completely unravels into dull confusion as she uncovers clues through coincidences and eventually tracks down the meaning of that amateur looking video (consisting of some pained animals, a fly crawling across the screen, a burning tree and flashes of static). Brian Cox has a cameo as the horse breeder and guilt-ridden father whose deceased daughter is a ghost, but his great abilities as a villain are wasted in a limited role.

At least, the film didn't rely on blood-and-gore to sell its story. The only blood seen was from a few symbolic nosebleeds. In the film's most energetic scene, a suicidal horse on a ferry goes berserk and breaks out of its stall and gallops across the ferry to drown in the ocean. It doesn't help the film out to explain its hokum story, but it nevertheless was a watchable scene in a film that was growing duller by the minute.

The film dragged on to its unpleasant conclusion, as it seemed to recycle its material from several recent horror films and then trickily kept the viewer off-guard with a misleading pat ending but only to come back and end in a puzzling and more unsatisfactory way. There was nothing fresh, and to add further misgivings I had about its intentions -- it came up with no psychological underpinnings to its story. Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive fame made a shrill but gallant effort to give her character some grit, but she was up against a lame script that beat her over the head whenever she tried to act real. David Dorfman played his troubled child part as if he were already in a loony bin with a faraway look. Martin Henderson had a vacuous role, but at least he was pleasant to watch. The Ring just left me cold and wet like I was out in the Seattle drizzle without rainwear.

REVIEWED ON 10/26/2002     GRADE: C -

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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