Mr. Jane, Frank Darabont’s on line #2.

STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 87 Anytime Minutes
    * Widescreen version of the movie
    * Full-screen version of the movie

In this American remake of prolific and amazingly nutzoid director Takashi Miike’s 2003 Japanese horror movie Chakushin ari, a group of college classmates is inexplicably targeted by a techno-savvy entity that somehow uses cell phones to distribute a deadly curse. After watching her friends die violent deaths, a psych student, aided by a grief-stricken cop, must solve the mystery of the ghostly murderer before she too meets an untimely end.

DJ Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Azura Skye, Johnny Lewis, Ana Claudia Talancón, Ray Wise, and Margaret Cho.

One Missed Call somehow manages to bundle the idea of death-foretelling cell phones, the horrors of child abuse, and a really weird advertisement for the pre-paid cell phone company Boost Mobile into one very lethargic package. With those tasty ingredients, how exactly can you fail at baking the perfect horror cake? If I wrote for Entertainment Weekly, this is where I might float the following: Miss. This. Call. Sossamon. Is. Cute. However. But I’m better than that. Really. So good in fact that I can sum up the movie in one word: phony.

When the excuse Me and the boys are playin’/And we just can’t find the sound stopped working, Plan B was put into play.

I imagine you strolling down the aisles of your almost always-empty local Blockbuster. Or, online, you’re scrolling through horror movie options on Netflix. As you are browsing, the weird image that is the One Missed Call cover pops out at you. It’s kind of a striking cover, I’ll grant you – a face with a gaping mouth in the place of each eye. And the Maybe I Should Rent This portion of your brain is activated. And, pretty soon, you find yourself at home, propped up in front of the television set, dropping snacks into your eyes. Mouth, rather. And there you are – watching the low blood sugar team of Sossamon & Burns fight cursed cell phones. Maybe I’m making this sound romantic, which is not my goal. Look, when doing your strolling or scrolling through those physical or virtual rows of DVDs, do not be tempted. You’ve heard the phrase “there’s strength in numbers.” As illustrated in this picture I snapped the other night at my local rental store, Blockbuster must live and die by that saying. Note their frightening attempt to meet the (specter of) demand for this movie:

I saw a man make a P2 grab. And when he pulled his arm back, three One Missed Call DVD cases were stuck to his forearm.

As you can see, the rental copies of One Missed Call are stacked mightily. They are stacked so deep that they might even brush your hand ever so lightly as you innocently walk by their legion-ness on your way to greener sub-sections of the store. The mouth-eyes chant a quiet chorus. But do not allow their siren song to reel you in. Where I’m headed with this: Do not treat One Missed Call like Eve treated that famously forbidden piece of fruit. Leave this DVD on the biblical shelf. I implore you. I know this review may be coming too late for some of you. I know that. I have to live with that. The movie made, somehow, 24 million in U.S. theaters. It’s been out on DVD for a few weeks now. Plus, it’ll be hitting those tireless movie channels soon enough. Heck, some of you may already have this thing in your collection. (Do you really?) It’s in mine (a review copy, but still). Oh, well. I’ll just file it under S with the rest of my Sossamons – The Rules of Attraction, A Knight’s Tale, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Catacombs, co-starring Pink. I’ll file it, and pretend it’s not there. Like a deformed toenail.

I’ve never seen Miike’s original, so let’s get that out of the way (like I’m getting anything out of the way in this review). Chakushin ari (a.k.a. One Missed Call) was supposedly the director’s take on the popular Japanese ghost flicks like Ringu and Ju-on, remade for American theaters as The Ring (not bad) and The Grudge (not not bad). Though Chakushin ari is considered (by him anyway) to be Takashi Miike Sells Out, it’s hard to imagine the director making a film as empty-headed and as sluggish as the redo. He’s just too good of a filmmaker, honestly. The gore and humor on display in the original mostly do not survive the overseas journey. Mostly. The lack of gore, of course, ensured the studio its coveted PG-13 rating, and the rest is just really sad history – symbolized in full in the above picture of that Blockbuster shelf.

The American version starts off somewhat promising by setting up the following murder:

As he was grabbed and pulled violently into the pond’s still waters, the cat saw its 9 lives flash before its eyes. And one of its Science Diet ones.

Now, this cat-clutch murder makes no sense in relation to the curse, as it’s eventually defined by the movie, but it’s a pretty funny jump scare. It’s certainly emblematic of the kind of goofiness I can get behind in a movie like this (specifically, cell phone horror). However, the movie never manages to trump this throw away shock. In fact, it’s really the only attempt at humor in the piece. So a playful note is struck and immediately muted by a strain of dourness that sets in like rigor mortis. After this weird bit during the intro, the movie just sleepwalks its way to the credits.

The premise for this flick, by the way, is not exactly simple to explain. After the first (onscreen) victim and her pet cat have met their respective makers, we are introduced to the group of friends/classmates/future victims at a house party. The party is being hosted by Beth, played by the part-time actor/part-time DJ Sossamon. One of the get-together’s attendees shows up late, having just come from her pal’s funeral. Beth quickly grabs her friend and pulls her from the noise of the party to the seclusion of a back bedroom. After kicking out a couple make-outers, Beth begins to console her grieving pal, Leann (the oddly appealing and the as-if-Bono-named-her Azura Skye). But a strange noise disturbs their conversation! When Leann registers that the sound is in fact coming from her cell phone, she ominously notes “That’s not my ringtone.” (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you screenwriter Andrew Klavan.) Though not the same as the ring originated in Miike’s original, the ringtone used here to notify us that a person has been cursed is both of creepy and melodic. I couldn’t find a sample of it, but I found a recording of someone playing it on an out of tune guitar:

There are no words. Only applause.

The caller ID, of course, says the call is coming from Leann’s recently dead friend. And, thusly, we are introduced to the clumsy curse. Here’s how it works, more or less:

  1. Friend A Dies.
  2. Friend B receives a call from dead Friend A but cannot answer the call. That shit goes straight to voicemail.
  3. Friend B retrieves the message, which is somehow from Friend B’s future self. The message contains Friend B’s last words and death noises. There is a date and timestamp on the message so the victim knows exactly when death’s icy hand will reach out and touch him or her.
  4. Rent something other than this.

Leann doesn’t know what the message means, but when the date and time of her death match exactly what the cell phone predicted, the other friends catch on quickly that they are dealing with some weird, J-horror execration. Beth tries to enlist the help of the police, but they scoff at her. Only one, a Detective Andrews (Burns), believes that ghost business is afoot. Andrews’s sister is actually the first person killed by the curse (off screen), and he’s already working on the bizarre case. As the bodies start to pile up, Beth and the detective delve deeper and deeper into the mystery.

Sossaman and Burns don’t make for the most energetic of cinematic pairings. Sossaman has this laid back, super cool presence in all of her movies – a kind of relaxed yet controlled grace that can only be honed by clocking many hours behind a turntable. It’s understandable that she’s getting tapped for horror leads (she’s recognizable, but not a star), but her aloof presence butts up against the very notion of the scream queen. I think she’s certainly more suited for offbeat fare like The Rules of Attraction and Wristcutters, but she’s pleasant enough to watch in a movie that isn’t. Place Burns at her slouching side, and it’s like the laid back Olympics. Both are effortlessly charismatic, yet they never give off the impression that their pulses are quickened by anything the movie world tosses in their paths.

Still, the acting talent on display certainly outshines the other trappings in this grim little movie. Once things are in motion, they are in slow motion. We learn that Beth can’t go near a closed door without flashing back to her abusive childhood – a revelation that mirrors (sort of) the origin of the cell phone demon. This bit is thrown in to give the impression of depth, but Beth’s background never truly dissolves into the main story. The filmmakers do, in an unexpected moment of detail, give the actress that plays young Beth the infamous Sossaman mole, however. Proof:

This young actress is very talented. She can cry on cue and on nearly every other letter of the alphabet.

A few things do manage to jolt the film back to life intermittently. Whenever a person is targeted by the curse, they see horrific visions as the countdown to their demise grows shorter and shorter– bugs burrow in and out of skin, statues morph into monsters, people with messed up faces (like ol’ mouth eyes) come out of the woodwork. Some of this stuff is effective, though the explanation for them – they tie into weird toys in a child’s room – ends up being gimmicky. Also, the great Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Reaper) hams it up as a greedy TV producer who wants to take advantage of the rumors about the curse and perform a live exorcism on one of the damned. This is a unique idea (or, it was in the original, at least). Typically, in Japanese horror movies, it seems required that the victim is alone and pretty well spooked before the death blow arrives. But the scene isn’t mined for much (exploitation, voyeurism). And, in the end, the victim might as well have been in a long, poorly lit corridor.

I’ll admit, being Ed Burns does have its advantages. My movies debut on iTunes, so that sucks. But there are perks. For example, this is an advanced copy of Bret Michaels’ new CD ‘Rock My World.’ I made you a copy. What do you mean it’s already out?”

The deaths, by the way, owe a little to the Final Destination series of films– but picture those movies edited for airplanes, and that’s what you get here. For example, a person’s torso is impaled by a metal rod. It enters from the back, finds its way to and out of the front, and encounters no blood along the way. A low scares, bloodless horror flick. And it was filmed in Atlanta, which is where I live. The sadness sets in. Director Eric Valette is currently working on another horror flick. The sadness remains.

“This is strictly a paycheck gig. I need some new turntables, bitches!”

See you guys back here when the sequel comes out.

There is nothing on the disc but the movie, proving that this was nothing more than a point and shoot cash grab. You can, however, download wallpapers at the movie’s still up and running web site. For your computer and your house!

3 out of 10.