urban legend

The past several years have seen an explosion in teen slasher films, bringing TV hotties onto the big screen during their summer hiatuses. The latest addition to this tired genre is the third generation, B-list horror dynasty wannabe, "Urban Legend," a movie that is scary for all the wrong reasons.

It should have stayed a mildly entertaining myth instead of polluting perfectly good movie theaters.

"Urban Legend" stars Alicia Witt ("Cybill"), Jared Leto ("My So-Called Life"), Joshua Jackson ("Dawson's Creek"), and the Noxzema Girl (Rebecca Gayheart), along with various other fourth-rate teen pin-ups. This time out, the supposedly horrifying premise is a killer who murders each of its victims in a different way, according to various popular myths. Conveniently, the details are readily accessible in a cute little encyclopedia of urban legends available in the school library.

You know, like the one about the dude who sticks his dog in the microwave after giving it a bath. Frat party hijinks or vicious animal cruelty? You be the judge.

Remember the story of the baby-sitter who got a phone call from a killer only to discover he was calling from inside the house? Wait a minute - wasn't that another movie? "Well, that really happened to a girl in my home town," Noxzema Girl announces in the urban legends class that the stars are all, conveniently, taking. "Urban Legend" attempts to set up a sort of reality within a reality, but it ultimately all comes crashing down in a pile of celluloid rubble.

Or what about the guy who parks with his girlfriend in the middle of nowhere, gets out of the car to go to the bathroom, and ends up hanging from a tree? R.I.P. Jackson, who appears to be playing the peroxide blonde version of his "Dawson's Creek" character and is the most wisecrackingly entertaining aspect of the movie aside from Leto's gorgeous blue eyes and certain members of the female cast's, uh, global endowments. Naturally, Jackson dies little more than ten minutes past the opening credits. This is a pity because it leaves more empty screen space for Noxzema Girl to fill with her scary big hair and scary big eyes.

As the film progresses, Noxzema Girl's eyes bug out further and further. It is as if she was badly frightened as a child and then (another urban legend!) her face froze that way. Yes, this means that she is, lamentably, still alive deep into the film's latter half. More than that I cannot say.

Witt, whose skin has a suspiciously wax paper-ish, corpse-like cast to it despite the fact that all outward signs point to her not being dead, plays the token "Oh, I'm so victimized" character who is being murderously haunted by a past transgression. Leto backs her up as Pendleton College's resident radical journalist who appears to care more about getting a story than helping people. Also along for the ride are "Elm Street" alum Robert Englund as a professor with a dark history, Loretta Devine as the sole campus security guard who uses "Foxy Brown" as a motivational tape and John Neville ("The X-Files"'s Well Manicured Man) as the well manicured college dean.

"Urban Legend" has been stocked with plenty of pop culture references that are designed to make the audience think that this is another witty, self-referential scary movie. This ruse wears thin as the movie wears long even Noxzema Girl is actually referred to within the film as looking like, well, the Noxzema Girl. The film tries too hard and provides too little, right down to the requisite open-for-a-sequel-if-the-money-is-right conclusion.You can almost see the little gears turning in the writer and director's minds as they cackle with glee that they are sealing their financial futures by filling their sorry film with hot young acting properties and franchise opportunities.

It's enough to make you want to consume a snack of Pop Rocks and Pepsi.

Sun Sep 27 00:26:21 EDT 1998

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