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Dustin Putman

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Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
2 Stars

Directed by John Ottman
Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Loretta Devine, Hart Bochner, Joseph Lawrence, Eva Mendez, Jessica Cauffiel, Anthony Anderson, Michael Bacall, Anson Mount, Marco Hofschneider, Chas Lawther.
2000 – 98 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, gore, profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 23, 2000.

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 the weekend.

"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 respectable filmmaker.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman