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‘Rings’ a sloppy, unnecessary sequel

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Ill-conceived third horror installment lacks scares

Considering the proclivity for franchises that currently reigns in Hollywood, it’s no surprise that just about every moderately successful film becomes a candidate for a sequel. Sometimes, this works and a surprising long-term success is born, but mostly, the films become trapped in an inexorable downward spiral of diminishing returns.

“Rings” – the third installment in the horror franchise inspired by the 1998 Japanese film “Ringu” – practically epitomizes the latter category; it’s a sloppy movie, an ostensible horror film lacking in scares and weighed down by half-realized mythology and numerous repetitive stretches.

Julia (Matilda Lutz, “Summertime”) has just seen her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe, “The 5th Wave”) head off to college. However, when she abruptly loses contact with him, she starts to worry and question the state of their relationship. This questioning is exacerbated when she inadvertently makes contact with a panicked young woman named Skye (Aimee Teagarden, TV’s “Notorious”) who is also looking for Holt.

Julia heads to the college to track Holt down. What she discovers is that Holt – along with Skye and numerous other students – have become part of an experiment by a biology professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki, TV’s “The Big Bang Theory”). Gabriel has obtained a copy of the infamous viewer-killing Samara video and is using it to research the nature of the afterlife by having student subjects watch the video and hand off copies to other volunteers in order to survive the ordeal.

But when Julia watches the video in an effort to help save Holt, it is soon discovered that her copy of the video is bigger, containing additional images that turn out to have video data embedded in them. So Julia’s video has a movie-within-a-movie, one that leads her to believe that the vengeful spirit is reaching out and asking for help in finally finding peace.

Her visions take her to a small town with a connection to Samara’s sad life, but the truth about that connection is difficult to unearth – particularly when certain people (most notably the blind caretaker of the crumbling church grounds (Vincent D’Onofrio, “The Magnificent Seven”)) have unclear motivations. Julia and Holt must solve the riddles posed by the new video before it is too late and Julia becomes Samara’s latest victim.

“Rings” just doesn’t work. There are no scares to speak of; the shock value of the curse has simply worn away with time. Familiarity definitely breeds contempt in this case – the whole thing feels recycled and derivative. The efforts at developing the mythology fall flat, as well, with the attempted expansion resulting in a stitched-together vibe. Worse, the filmmakers don’t seem to care about the sloppiness; we’re left with a haphazard tale in which we can see a multitude of crude seams. Other than an update of the ways in which the video can be viewed – video files! – it’s the same rudimentary plotline we watched in the previous two offerings.

But ultimately, the biggest crime committed by director F. Javier Gutierrez and the screenwriting trio of Akiva Goldman, Jacob Estes and David Loucka is simply this – “Rings” is boring. Seat-shiftingly, watch-checkingly dull. What little happens is driven by seemingly arbitrary motivation; huge questions are left unanswered in favor of rehashing plot basics over and over again. Add in the absence of scares and you’re left with … what?

A movie-going experience that feels like a waste of time in real time.

The cast is utterly forgettable. Lutz and Roe are the sorts of blandly good-looking and interchangeable young people that tend to populate horror films of this ilk. They say the words and hit their marks and are completely uninteresting. Meanwhile, Galecki seems to be making a fairly conscious effort to transcend his sitcom, but it’s a failed one – he’s going to need much bigger and better choices to move beyond his now-ingrained Chuck Lorre-ness. Even D’Onofrio, who is one of the best out there at committing to genre fare, doesn’t help; he’s actually pretty good here, but his chewy performance is largely lost in the sea of mediocrity that surrpunds him.

“Rings” is a perfect example of why even successful films don’t always work as franchises. The limitations of the central conceit don’t allow much storytelling leeway, ensuring that sequels are little more than slight variations on the original narrative. It is an unentertaining and unnecessary experience, one that we can only hope will not be repeated – again.

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