Say this much for "Ghost Ship": You know where it's coming from right off the bat, when beautiful people on a swank cruise ship get sliced, diced, julienned and chiffonaded in a mysterious accident. Within minutes of its opening scene in the ship's nightclub, the film becomes a slow-motion symphony of dangling limbs, severed heads and promiscuously spurting blood, clearly announcing that "Ghost Ship" will be sending chills down its audience's collective spine not with suspense but with the most graphic violence it can muster.
From there, it's an hour and a half of dark, wet corridors, creaking doors, creepy apparitions, maggots, corpses, a skeleton in a closet -- and blood, lots of it, dripping, oozing, gushing and at one point even filling up a swimming pool.
The setting for all this sanguineous activity is the titular ghost ship, christened the Antonia Graza, the pride of the Italian line in 1962, when it suddenly disappeared. She's been missing for 40 years when a Canadian Air Force pilot named Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) approaches salvage boat captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) with some photographs he's taken of a huge boat in the Bering Sea. Murph and his crew -- which is suitably motley, this being Hollywood -- set out to find the ship and bring her in, along with the riches she might hold.
"Ghost Ship" features some fine actors as Murph's plucky band of maritime mercenaries: Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington and Karl Urban all do their best to inject some character into what is an essentially featureless ghost-hunting procedural. Director Steve Beck ("Thirteen Ghosts") does a good job of working out the spatial relations of the massive Antonia Graza, a labyrinth of deadly cul-de-sacs and spooky corners. But he doesn't orchestrate the scares with much finesse. What's more, the whammies are punctuated with little tutorials on the international law of the sea that pretty much kill what little buzz there is.
Alert viewers will see the big twist almost immediately, but Beck nonetheless finds it necessary to include a long flashback during which all is explained. This passage, a veritable orgy of death and gore set to a sexy techno beat, is quite possibly the most offensive movie scene this critic has seen recently. The sequence is probably more distressing now than it would have been were the front pages not filled with news of local and international terror. But the thought of people -- especially teenagers, the film's primary audience -- eagerly watching such gratuitous and eroticized suffering seems like the height of perversity. Maybe it's the time of year and maybe it's the time of man, but "Ghost Ship" and its ilk are beginning to feel not just morally questionable but downright redundant.
Ghost Ship (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong violence, gore, language and sexuality.