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‘Jigsaw’ fails to put it together

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Latest horror franchise installment just doesn’t cut it

There was a stretch where you could set your watch by the “Saw” franchise.

For seven straight years – 2004-2010 – theaters saw a new installment of this gory combination revenge fantasy/morality driven by a creepy puppet on a tricycle and a nigh-infinite supply of increasingly Rube Goldbergian traps and torture devices.

After those seven films, the “Saw” saga had seemingly run its course. Yet here we are, seven years later, with another entry in the series – “Jigsaw.” It seemed that all the questions of the franchise had been answered. Really, there’s only one puzzle left - why anyone thought we needed another “Saw” movie.

“Jigsaw” follows the by-now standard formula. A pair of police detectives – shady operator Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers”) and by-the-book Hunt (Cle Bennett, TV’s “Private Eyes”) – encounter a criminal with a strange triggering device. Those familiar with the franchise knows what that means.

Indeed, we’re soon in a room with five people chained to a wall with saws on it. We hear the voice of the supposedly-dead-but-really-we-knew-better John Kramer (Tobin Bell, “The Sandman”) – the famed Jigsaw himself – telling them that they’re playing a game and to confess their sins and blah blah blah.

The five quickly become four when one of their number gets cut almost immediately. The remaining quartet – Anna (Laura Vandervoort, TV’s “Bitten”), Ryan (Paul Braunstein, “Undercover Grandpa”), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles, TV’s “Roots”) and Carly (Brittany Allen, “The Definites”) – are left to solve Jigsaw’s sadistic (and needlessly convoluted) puzzles in an effort to save themselves.

Needless to say, things get bloody, ridiculous and bloody ridiculous.

Meanwhile, a pair of medical examiners – Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore, “Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?”) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson, “Love of My Life”) – are aiding in the investigation as bodies start appearing, but they themselves fall under a cloud of suspicion. Of course, this is a “Saw” movie, so EVERYBODY falls under a cloud of suspicion, but still – suspicion.

Halloran and Hunt and Nelson and Bonneville are trying their best to track down the totally-not-dead Jigsaw and rescue the people endangered by his trap. And the people in the trap are trying to figure out just what they need to do to survive their circumstances.

What follows is the usual mélange of blood and betrayal, complete with a telegraphed twist.

Look, say what you will about the “Saw” franchise – there’s no denying that it has a baseline popularity. There’s a fairly steep downward spiral of diminishing returns, but the previous seven movies combined to do nearly $900 million at the box office. That’s a proven track record; it’s no surprise that Hollywood went back to the blade.

Unfortunately, there’s nowhere else for these movies to go. They’ve been painted into a corner by the limitations of the concept; “Jigsaw” is the unavoidable result of those limitations, a film that is completely and utterly familiar. No surprises, no scares – everything that happens is easily predicted.

Performance quality is almost beside the point in these movies; with very few exceptions, the characters have almost zero depth. The victims are ciphers, audience surrogates dropped into crazy mechanical traps and left to titillate through their psychological and physical suffering. The investigators are inept and/or corrupt, making questionable decisions and generally existing solely to enable the plot. Everyone is inessential and interchangeable.

In this latest iteration, even Bell – the closest thing the franchise has to a star – feels like a non-entity. His efforts to underplay feel more like disinterest, leaving the viewer with little reason to muster up even the minimal engagement necessary to stave off probably the worst feeling a film like this can elicit – boredom.

There’s not a lot in the way of suspense here; the red herrings are particularly fishy and it quickly becomes laughably obvious who’s who when it comes to good guys and bad guys. The story has all the usual gaping plot holes and grasping retcons that are a hallmark of the franchise. The traps and puzzles are more of the same, with plenty of blood and blunt force ethical dilemmas. Oh, and the creepy puppet is still creepy.

“Jigsaw” brings nothing new to the table. It’s more of the same. However, that’s likely what fans of the franchise want and expect. This latest offering won’t win any converts, but those already invested will get at least some of what they’re looking for.

[1 out of 5]

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