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PHIL ON FILM: 'Rings' fails to deliver the frights

Posted: 7:47 AM, Feb 03, 2017
Updated: 2017-09-21 15:43:39-04

As horror villains go, the villain of the "Ring" movies sets a pretty high bar for potential victims. Technology streamlines things somewhat in "Rings," but its heroes are still far too dumb to root for.

The crab-walking, black-and-white girl with a nasty combover will only stalk and slay people dumb/unlucky enough to happen upon a VHS tape that plays a German expressionist short film about her demise. Once people watch, she calls them up on the phone and tells them they have seven days to live. At that point, they can get her off their back by recruiting others to see the tape.

As viral marketing strategies go, there are better ways to get your stuff seen.

No wonder it's been 12 years since the last movie. Ring Girl has to wait quite a while to find another sap silly enough to fall into her obscure trap. But if "Rings" succeeds at anything, it's that proving that society will always continue to lower the bar in terms of intelligence and reason. Hence a pair of teenagers (Alex Roe and Bonnie Morgan), who become ensnared in the doom.

The kids spend most of the movie watching the video -- which has helpfully evolved into a digital file -- and making increasingly dumber decisions thereafter. We're talking searching out forbidden crypts, hanging out with a demonic preacher and digging up graves. 

Much of the mayhem spawns from the direction of an egotistical professor (Johnny Galecki), who thinks this death-by-video phenomenon would make a neato research paper and has enlisted students to help him watch the video and die. The things kids will do for extra credit. Galecki dutifully bows out after he's put in enough screen time to justify his paycheck so he can scurry back to "The Big Bang Theory" set.

Vincent D'Onofrio also gets entangled in the ramshackle, barely scary mess, playing the preacher who is just bad news all around. His character is scary enough, but he pretty much keeps to himself, so just as with Ring Girl, the only way he'll mess with you is if you go out of your way to seek him out.

The bright-eyed leads do themselves no favors, and in turn make it way too difficult to root or fear for them as they sink deeper into the wackness.

The leads do an admirable job of keeping things grounded with earnest performances, but there's only so much they can do with mediocre writing and bargain-bin musical jolts and atmospheric scares that fail to recapture the spookiness of the Japanese original "Ringu" or its American remake. 

It was time for this series to end long ago, and that's more clear than ever now that it's back. Stuff this one in the corner along with all the old VHS tapes you'll never watch again.

RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4.