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'Grudge 2' is hardly a scream

The most popular facial expression for victims in ``The Grudge 2" is something I'd like to call ``deep befuddlement." Brow furrowed, mouth slightly, stupidly agape as the hairy dead mother and her clammy son pop up, again, in the darnedest places, haunting whoever has entered the house they were murdered in. This time ``deep befuddlement" goes double for paying customers. (Dude, how is she climbing out of that pan of film developing solution?) But logic in Takashi Shimizu's sequel to the Hollywood remake of his own cult classic, ``Ju-On," is beside the point. Well, not entirely. The first remake, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a nurse with a curse, made a pile of money in 2004. Why shouldn't this one? But Lord this is a sorry excuse for a payday.

Among the check cashers is Amber Tamblyn, late of TV's ``Joan of Arcadia." She plays Gellar's estranged, spineless sister, Aubrey, whose melodramatically bed ridden mother (Joanna Cassidy) sends the meek daughter to Tokyo to find the cursed one and bring her home. Well, she finds her, at least, in the hospital; bringing her home is another story.

She also finds a handsome journalist named Eason (Edison Chen). These two walk very slowly into the first movie's haunted house, looking for clues to explain Aubrey's sister's condition, even though the police tape wrapped around the entrance says ``Keep Out." Exposure to the house, which Gellar's character torched at the end of the first picture, leaves them catatonic and paranoid, like they're off drugs and on them at the same time.

To keep us in deeper befuddlement, the story often shifts to Chicago, where Jennifer Beals has just moved in with her boyfriend, his cheerleader daughter, and his half-pint son. Obviously, they see dead people too. In both cities, the thrills are cheap. Japanese horror has never been a narrative enterprise. But in America, Shimizu's talent for metaphysical surprise turns into desperate gotcha moments and dubious dialogue.

Shimizu appears to have left his cast members to their own devices, and they need upgrades -- although Takako Fuji and Ohga Tanaka, as the ghosts, do MTV Movie Award-caliber work by just crouching in a phone booth. Still, the sight of victims standing by and casually watching as nonsense stares them in the face is simply not the stuff of horror. It is pretty funny, though, when that cheerleader casually takes a cellphone call while her zombified best friend pukes milk back into the container. Indeed, one man's ``Grudge 2" is another's ``Scary Movie 9."

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