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Werewolf flick sinks its teeth into satire

The new werewolf movie ''Cursed" marks a return to a not-so-distant time when horror movies weren't soul-rotting atrocities but just enjoyably bad. No ''Boogeyman" or ''Afraid of the Dark," this.

''Cursed" also marks the return of the director Wes Craven and the screenwriter Kevin Williamson, the pair who, with the ''Scream" trilogy, gave the modern horror film an irrevocable postmodern face lift.

At their clever best, those movies surveyed the landscape of every slasher movie and teen comedy that preceded them, and deftly torched it. All the while, the films never forgot to embrace the very qualities they were laughing at. They were smart, and still both funny and scary.

''Cursed" shows Craven and Williamson resting on their good names. The level of suspense is involving, but it's a lazier collaboration than ''Scream." What the movie does have is Christina Ricci as we've never seen her: passably normal.

She and Jesse Eisenberg play Ellie and Jimmy, a brother and sister grieving the deaths of their parents. One night after a car accident, they come into contact with an infectious wolf in the Hollywood Hills.

Soon each develops freakish symptoms. Jimmy, a gawky high school misfit (the witty, cute kind that ''O.C." actor Adam Brody has made fashionable) wakes up naked outside his house and can suplex classmates at wrestling practice. Ellie can detect the aroma of a nosebleed in the air at ''The Late Late Show" offices, where she's a producer for its now-former host Craig Kilborn.

As our protagonists undergo metamorphoses, a wolf, perhaps the same as the one that got them, is killing nubile starlet types played by the likes of ''American Pie" actress Shannon Elizabeth and R&B singer Mya. What this means for Jimmy and Ellie is a series of encounters with a full-fledged special effect calling itself a werewolf. The most elaborate of these takes place in a new sure-to-be-hot-until-it's-demolished nightclub called Tinsel.

Ellie's lukewarm boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson) runs the joint, and its theme appears to be old horror movies. (Only the filmmakers can explain why such a place would also contain a karaoke ''diva" room with waxen effigies of women like Cher.)

That I could (happily) go on to explain the senseless plot of ''Cursed" with reasonable seriousness is refreshing, since most of the movie's peers are all noise and no story. But Williamson and Craven don't take the satire of LA nearly as far as it could and should go.

The movie is content to be hip and snide. Scott Baio plays a washed-up, D-grade celebrity named Scott Baio, and the joke stops there. Getting him to accept the part seems to have been the coup. Ditto for Kilborn, who isn't put to very surprising use either.

Fortunately, Craven is such a confident director that he doesn't need the junk artifice of wham-bang cutting, dungeon-style lighting, and haywire cinematography to disguise shortcomings in the storytelling department. For better and worse, he believes in Williamson's writing, which is often a tribute from the screenwriter to himself.

Williamson is most famously the troubled creator of TV's defunct ''Dawson Creek," from which too much of this movie seems to flow. The characters in ''Cursed," like all Williamson's young men and women, prefer to talk with fake wisdom (''Everybody is cursed, Jimmy -- it's called life") and quasi-literate knots of preciousness that are almost impossible to untangle.

The movie also has only a passing interest in werewolves. Jimmy and Ellie struggle with their conversions but refuse to give in. Not wanting to gnaw at the hands that feed it, ''Cursed" avoids applying its central metaphor to the movie-biz types who circulate around the main characters.

The meanest it gets is in regard to Baio's snooty publicist. She's played by Judy Greer, the awkward yet somehow natural comedian who makes me love her more with each small part. She and the rest of the cast appear to be enjoying themselves, and in a shocking achievement for a horror movie these days, their fun is kind of contagious.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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