The opening scene of “Rings” takes place on an airplane, as a young man is gripping his arm rest during a turbulent flight. An attractive young woman sitting next to him tells him not to worry. Instead of thanking her, he suddenly asks her if she’s seen a movie so horrible, “it will kill you if you watch it.” I thought he was asking her about “Suicide Squad,” but he’s actually referencing the events of the 2003 Gore Verbinski-directed “The Ring” (itself a solid remake of the Japanese horror film “Ringu”). Anyway, instead of hitting the flight attendant button and requesting a tazer, the young girl humors the guy and listens to his monolog, intended to get her (and audiences too young to remember “The Ring”) up to speed. He explains that he came across the cursed video tape and managed to find a VCR to watch it. This was when I started laughing uncontrollably: where the heck did he find a VCR? It’s easier to track down a Nintendo Power Glove! From this point, allegedly “spooky” things happen aboard the flight and it’s all very “Snakes on a Plane” absurd and kind of fun. The dopey start of “Rings” is rife with unintentional hilarity but this so-bad-its-good B-movie devolves into another dull, ugly horror movie about women being tortured under captivity.

Johnny Galecki (looking like a morose Jack Black) stars as a college professor who knows the reason why watching the infamous videotape results in death and has a system to keep himself and other victims safe. Attractive newcomers Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe play a couple trying to solve the mystery of the long haired, TV-set hopping Samara; let’s hope their careers survive. Galecki seems appropriately embarrassed to be here, while the often-brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio alarmingly does not.

The logic of everything here is beyond sketchy. Although the “rules” of the tape are the same as in the original (you watch it, you get a creepy phone call and you die in seven days), characters are constantly re-watching it, as though it were the Zapruder film. Wouldn’t that mean multiple death sentences or the seven days reduced to a five day week? There’s also no mention of Naomi Watts’ character from the first two movies, though I imagine Watts is grateful for this.

We’re offered a brief glimpse of a Ring club, in which viewers of the tape hang out and partake in a loop hole to keep them alive. It’s the most clever idea in the movie and it quickly sails by unexplored. As a commentary on uploading creepy You Tube videos, passing asexually transmitted disease or living in an age of fear, nothing sticks. The slight update in technology doesn’t fit with the antiquated concept of the mysterious tape. All of this was thoroughly and satisfactorily spoofed in “Scary Movie 3.”

Another thing about that airliner-set sequence that opens the movie: it looks suspiciously like it used to be the end of the movie and has been reconfigured as the opener. Much of this seems like a collection of re-tooled, half-considered scenes that only kind-of fit together. It’s no mystery why “Rings” has missed multiple release dates and was pushed out of last year’s Halloween release slot (an ominous sign for a horror movie). The filmmakers should have kept pushing it back until, Samara-style, the movie got dropped into the deep, dark well of the Wal-Mart five dollar DVD bin.

“Jump scares” are usually cheap and heightened by loud sound effects but here, we’re supposed to be startled by an umbrella opening. While the 2003 film was unsettling in its sustained intensity, this feels like a much-too-late  “Final Destination” sequel. The message of “Rings” is oddly on point: if someone says there’s a horrible movie that will kill you if you watch it, just say no!

One Star

originally published in Maui Time Weekly