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'Cursed': A Real Howler

Christina Ricci Is Wasted in a Shaggy Werewolf Story

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page C01

Christina Ricci is such a singular film presence that it's heartbreaking to see her in a spectacularly unsingular film like "Cursed."

With her headlamp-size eyes, her broad, noble forehead and her eerie serenity, she's been devastatingly effective on-screen since she was a child actress starring in "The Addams Family." So whose idea was it to waste her in a dim werewolf caper, where the lycanthrope is played by -- hold your breath -- a guy in a wolf suit.

Christina Ricci looks more sheepish than scared in Wes Craven's latest horror flick. (Eric Lee -- Dimension Films)

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The movie does have one moment of stunning excitement however: It documents something we've all wondered about -- a pre-interview with Scott Baio for "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn."

Now I don't know about you, but I for one can't get enough of the unique charisma Craig brings to television and when he himself appears, it's like -- what's that? Canceled, you say?

Never mind.

Anyhow, Ricci plays some kind of production assistant on the Kilborn TV juggernaut whose circumstances are somewhat strange. She lives with and supports her brother, Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy high school student; their parents died in unspecified ways. One night, they're driving home and they're involved in an auto accident on Mulholland after hitting a large, mysterious, possibly canine animal. When both go into the brush to locate the driver of the other car, they are attacked and bitten by that same animal, who then proceeds to pull the mystery driver off into the bushes and eat her all up.

The next few days, the siblings begin to notice things: They have a keener sense of smell and weird, pentagram-like scabs on their hands. They seem to be generating some sexual attractant that lights up all those who've never noticed them before -- such as the great Craig Kilborn -- and their aggressive instincts, strength and reflexes are much heightened.

Since nerdy Jimmy has been the target of assault by high school bullies, he gets a little payback in the movie's only satisfying moment, in which he takes out the wrestling team. It helps that Eisenberg (you might remember him as young Nick in 2002's "Roger Dodger") is a good young actor and that his Jimmy is the one believable character in the nonsense that follows.

It soon turns out that even as the siblings must face the possibility of their own werewolfism, the beast itself is still chasing them. In fact the movie becomes a kind of guess-the-werewolf game show, and the contestants consist of a bitchy publicist, a creepy director, a creepier producer, a gay wrestler and even, God help us, Scott Baio or Craig Kilborn.

Wes Craven, who started the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, should know a lot better. So should writer Kevin Williamson, creator of "Dawson's Creek." These two guys also teamed up on the "Scream" movies, which at least committed wholly to the idea of parody, whereas "Cursed" makes only a halfhearted attempt. Anyhow, they've both had better days.

The special effects are particularly lame, and an insult to the proud werewolf tradition of "An American Werewolf in London" or the even better "The Howling." Admittedly, the guy in the wolf suit is only in some early scenes, where he's glimpsed pawing at a human being in an elevator; the computer generation takes over for the big sequence set at the opening of some kind of horror movie museum or something. Finally, the big bad wolf is seen full on: It looks like Rin Tin Tin on a bad hair day.

Cursed (96 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for horror violence without much gore.

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