For a fright flick called "Ghost Ship," there are surprisingly few spooks dropping in through much of the movie. And the spirits that do pop up are, like Casper, far too friendly to elicit many chills.
Instead of a trip to terror, "Ghost Ship" is a ticket to tedium, a horror movie so devoid of horror that mouths will open wide in yawns, without a scream to be heard.
Other than a gruesome opening scene that redefines the term "slice and dice," "Ghost Ship" is a vessel adrift, cobbling together hackneyed images of oozing blood and a dreary premise about a servant of Satan bottling up lost souls on a rusty old luxury liner.
Fans of the genre would be better served renting an old favorite or catching "The Ring" a second time (or even watching reruns of "The Love Boat").
The idea of haunted vessels is so inherently creepy that it doesn't seem as though it would be too hard to come up with a serviceable story to muster some scares. But director Steve Beck and screenwriters Mark Hanlon and John Pogue scuttle this tale.
"Ghost Ship" is the latest from Dark Castle Entertainment, the horror-movie outfit created by Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver.
Dark Castle's previous movies - "House on Haunted Hill" and last year's "13 Ghosts," the latter directed by Beck - featured such actors as Geoffrey Rush and F. Murray Abraham. "Ghost Ship" continues the company's inexplicable ability to land decent performers for rotten movies.
This time it's Gabriel Byrne as Capt. Sean Murphy and Julianna Margulies as Maureen Epps, partners in a salvage operation in Alaska.
A pilot (Desmond Harrington) approaches Murphy, Epps and their misfit crew (Isaiah Washington, Ron Eldard, Karl Urban and Alex Dimitriades) with aerial photos of a prize too good to pass up: a huge derelict vessel in the Bering Sea.
Off they all go in their little tug, stumbling on the rusty hulk of the Antonia Graza, a luxury liner that vanished 40 years earlier with 600 of Europe's hoity-toity and 500 crew members.
Epps encounters Katie (Emily Browning), the ghost of a girl whose soul is among those trapped on the ship. Katie the friendly ghost - along with the specter of the Antonia Graza's captain, who politely shares a drink with Murphy - explains the dark doings that befell the ship's company (apparently, when you're dead and damned, you're always looking for a living ear to bend).
Beyond those apparitions, there's a meager head count on ghosts until late in the movie. The filmmakers are mostly content with loud, cheap effects - a hallway of doors slamming shut, blood seeping from bullet holes to fill a swimming pool.
The climax is a bore, the identity of the soul hunter is obvious and the performers are so lethargic they're like cadavers giving over to rigor mortis.
The real trapped souls are the people stuck watching this turkey. Cue the iceberg, the torpedo, the tidal wave, whatever it takes to send this garbage scow to the bottom quickly.
"Ghost Ship," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R for strong violence-gore, language and sexuality. Running time: 89 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
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