Baby-Sitting Bummer

Another PG-13 horror movie bites the dust--yet earns huge box office

The original When a Stranger Calls had about 10 good minutes in it. The new remake of the 1979 movie starring Carol Kane takes those 10 minutes and tries to stretch them into 90. The result is a couple of good scares buried within a movie that is mostly padding. This sucker feels mighty long.

For those horror buffs out there who were hoping the PG-13 horror-lite trend had come to an end with films like Wolf Creek and Hostel, your optimism has not been rewarded. This is a horror film that's suitable for the kiddies--no blood, no gore, but plenty of shock scares to traumatize baby sitters, future and present.

Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) has gotten herself grounded going over her cellular-phone-minute limit (for shame!). As punishment, her parents tell her to pay them back by baby-sitting instead of going to a big high school bonfire that looks a lot like Burning Man. Jill's baby-sitting gig isn't in your average-sized home, because that would be boring. Instead, Jill's trucked out to the middle of nowhere to the home of Dr. Mandrakis, a super-rich guy with a spread that would make the Hiltons envious.

The house is huge, with all sorts of crazy lighting, so if some sort of psychopath were to chase you around, chances are that shadows would fall in such a way that you could never see his face. The house also has its own little pond in the middle of it. So if, by chance, a psychopath were to chase you around, you might find yourself hiding in its watery confines, because that is pretty much its purpose for being in the movie.

Dr. Mandrakis and wife give Jill the tour, inform her that the kids are sound asleep and head out for a movie. The inevitable phone calls start, for if they didn't, the film would be called something like When a Baby Sitter Trolls About Some Large House Where Nothing Really Happens. Calls to the police are made; then, a major departure from the original film regarding the children occurs, and the psychopath is eventually revealed as the dude from Braveheart with that cool scar (Tommy Flanagan). Actually, he's only the face of the Stranger. The voice on the phone belongs to Bishop from Aliens (Lance Henriksen).

Director Simon West (Con Air) has made a movie that certainly looks good. The totally implausible house is a capable-enough venue for a few creepy moments, and Belle does a decent job of acting scared shitless and looking pretty for the camera. Try as everyone might, the premise doesn't hold water over 90 minutes, and each successive time the phone rings, the film becomes less scary and more annoying.

The script supplies the psycho with a few other cadaver candidates to keep things flowing, but the main confrontation is between Jill and the Stranger, who wants her blood all over him (his words, not mine). Does the baby sitter arm herself with knives, rocks and a telephone and then find a safe room in a house of many candidates? Just see if you can guess the answer to that question.

This is pretty much the second remake of When a Stranger Calls (the Drew Barrymore intro to Scream was the first). There was absolutely no need to make this movie again, unless you count the $22 million that moviegoers forked out for the opening weekend. With that, you can probably expect some sort of sequel where the cellular phone is more instrumental, the dude from Braveheart gets more close-ups, and the baby sitter grows up to have her own children terrorized. Something to look forward to.

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