Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
1998's slasher thriller "Urban Legend" may have been disregarded by a lot of
reviewers for following the same formula as 1996's groundbreaking "Scream,"
but it was, to me, the most stylishly made and cleverly written of all its
so-called "clones." The idea of a killer murdering people based on urban
legends--folk tales that have been passed down as true stories even though
they never actually happened--was a novel one, and director Jamie Blanks
succeeded in creating both heightened tension and a visceral mood. "Urban
Legend" ultimately went on to gross $38-million, considerably more than its
limited budget, and if there's one thing you should know about the horror
genre, it's that any movie that makes money gets a sequel within the next two
or three years. In the case of "Urban Legend," it took exactly two years--to
"Urban Legends: Final Cut," the directorial debut of editor/music composer
John Ottman (1995's "The Usual Suspects"), is predictably inferior to its
predecessor, as almost all sequels are, but it prospers by going in an
entirely new direction from the original and nailing out more than its fair
share of fresh ideas. The movie is entertaining and atmospheric, and its blur
between fantasy and reality is ingeniously executed, if similar in nature to
2000's "Scream 3."
The movie is set at New England-based Alpine University, a prestigious film
school that gives away the Hitchcock Award every year for the most
outstanding student film, almost guaranteeing a shot at the big time in
Hollywood. Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) is one of the determined
hopefuls, a primarily documentary filmmaker who, after getting a ride to the
library on a blustery, snowy evening from the school's security guard Reese
(Loretta Devine), gets the inventive idea of making a horror movie about a
killer whose murders are, indeed, based on urban legends. Reese insists that
the ghastly murders that occurred at nearby Pendleton U several years before
are true, but that, nonetheless, it would make a good movie.
As Amy's film progresses, she gradually grows suspicious when her classmates
begin disappearing, not the least of when she witnesses an apparent snuff
film of one of them being brutally murdered on the darkened, closed-down set
of her movie. Someone is clearly out to not only sabotage Amy's dreams, but
to do away with all of the people helping out on her crew.
Easily the most innovative twist in "Urban Legends: Final Cut" is the way the
ill-fated characters become literal pawns in urban legends brought to life,
all the while Amy's movie on the very same subject films on at the same time.
Even more so than in "Scream 3," the way that reality and fiction intermix is
extremely well done.
What the sequel lacks, however, is the memorable characters of the original,
as well as the taut pacing that made the 1998 film so exciting and
suspenseful. Screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson have not
constructed nearly as tightly written a script as Silvio Horta did, nor is
Ottman quite as assured a first-time director as Blanks was. Meanwhile, the
mystery involving who the killer is is not only unforeseen, but the amount of
suspects and red herrings involved aids in adding much fun to the proceedings.
As the film's heroine Amy, Jennifer Morrison (1999's "Stir of Echoes") is a
surprising choice for the lead since she is such a little-known actress, but
as with the majority of the cast, their lack of general star power acts in
showing off a bunch of new talent who are able to create believable
characters, since there is no star baggage to go along with them. Morrison is
likable, if not quite up to par with Alicia Witt's Natalie in the first film.
The supporting cast includes the rather bland Matthew Davis, playing the dual
role of film student Travis and his brooding twin brother Trevor; Marco
Hofschneider (1992's "Europa, Europa"), hamming it up and having a heck of a
time in the process, as sleek, womanizing cinematographer Simon; the
charismatic Eva Mendez, as camera technician Vanessa, who secretly harbors a
crush on Amy; the very funny Jessica Cauffiel (2000's "Road Trip"), as bad
actress Sandra; and Joseph Lawrence (TV's "Blossom"), wasted as showoff
hotshot Graham. The sole returnee of "Urban Legend" comes in the form of that
film's best character, security guard Reese, who has an affinity for acting
out blaxploitation films, and aspires to be just like her idol, Pam Grier.
Loretta Devine, as in the original, steals every scene she is in, and should
there possibly ever be a second sequel, deserves to be the main star.
Aside from one disturbing sequence in which a girl wakes up in a bathtub full
of ice, only to see that her kidney has been removed and lays on the table
next to her, the film is never very scary, but it is consistently
entertaining and surprisingly funny, as it offers up several great lines of
dialogue and stringently follows the conventions of recent slasher films.
"Urban Legends: Final Cut" is not a work of high art, but it is a relatively
classy horror picture, and director John Ottman has proven that he can
successfully cross over from being, not only a gifted composer, but also a
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman