The makers of what is shaping up to be the "House" series have a novel concept: Forget about continuity and go for a generic form. Hence "House II: The Second Story" (good line, that one) has absolutely nothing to do with the original model "House," a somewhat funny, somewhat spooky borderline hit from a few years back. As the ad copy says, "It's an all new house with brand new owners," but a familiar plot line about young people moving into an oversized and secluded house with a Bad Reputation and at least one haunting specter.
Except that writer-director Ethan Wiley plays this one strictly for laughs (witness the PG-13 rating, compared with its predecessor's R). An unsuspecting yuppie couple (aren't they all) move into the house, and while she keeps at her career (she's a record company A&R exec -- somebody call Jason Vorhees), he explores the old family estate and, after a little grave-robbing, winds up saddled with his great-great-grandfather, dead perhaps, but surprisingly lively after 70 years underground. As played by Royal Dano, Gramps is the ghost of Gabby Hayes. Between complaints, he likes to drink, talk about the good old days and party; his crumbling fac ade presents no major problems during the obligatory party scene. After all, it's Halloween.
Oh, about that plot, the one the film's buried in. Seems Gramps and his partner long ago discovered a magical skull that could unlock the mysteries of the universe and bring immortality. Naturally, they fought over it and set to killing each other, but not permanently so. As so often happens, the past tries to resolve itself in the present. You know it's today because one of the good guys keeps an Uzi submachine gun in the trunk of his car, suggesting the "House" is probably in California.
Wiley digresses, of course. There's an undeveloped thread involving a miserable rock singer (an excuse to bring in a male buddy for lead Arye Gross). Then he brings in "Cheers' " dour John Ratzenberger as an "electrician/adventurer" who uncovers (clumsily) an alternate universe on the other side of a wall (maybe that's the thread between houses: "Cheers' " George Wendt appeared in the first "House.") Behind the wall, our intrepid adventurers find some leftover creatures from "The NeverEnding Story" and a Neanderthal man who could have had a future in professional wrestling had he lived long enough. Maybe he did.
At the end, the plot line goes to settlement.
Genre aficionados looking for chills and thrills will be disappointed; this one could play uncut on television -- network, not cable. The effects and the jokes are equally few and far between, and for all its amiable intentions, "House II" deserves few boarders.
House II: The Second Story, currently playing at area theatres, is rated PG-13