"Bride of Chucky" emerges with recharged batteries and a mordantly funny edge that's attuned to the dawning millennium. A relatively straightforward genre piece, it has flair and a dash of wit that should produce very strong opening numbers and could well have better-than-average theatrical stamina in addition to potent ancillary revenue dollars.

Apart from the current vogue for horror films, there appeared to be little foundation for resurrecting the “Child’s Play” franchise. By its third outing, the saga of a possessed, malevolent doll was running at low artistic and commercial voltage. But after an eight-year series hiatus, “Bride of Chucky” emerges with recharged batteries and a mordantly funny edge that’s attuned to the dawning millennium. A relatively straightforward genre piece, it has flair and a dash of wit that should produce very strong opening numbers and could well have better-than-average theatrical stamina in addition to potent ancillary revenue dollars.

Chucky — the former serial killer Charles Lee Ray whose spirit was mystically transferred into a doll at the moment of his death — is literally resurrected from the evidence morgue in a heist engineered by his ex-girlfriend Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and a money hungry cop. The policeman’s larceny, however, is no match for the woman’s capacity for lethal deceit. Stitching and stapling the remnants of the doll together, Tiffany invokes a voodoo chant and the smart-mouth Chucky is back in the sort of lethal business he engaged in as a flesh-and-blood felon.

However, the reunion with Tiffany quickly shows signs of strain. Despite his physical stature and plastic frame, Chucky struts like a colossus. Quickly realizing that her dreams of marriage and family are quite out of the question, the woman uses brute force to keep her Frankenstein puppet under lock and key.

The fourth chapter of “Child’s Play” has dumped the character of Andy — the young boy terrorized by the doll who aged into a teenager during its three prior incarnations — and essentially redirects its focus. Combining an overt reference to “The Bride of Frankenstein” with a hipper, sexually slanted appeal to young adults a la “Halloween” and “Scream,” the story proceeds to involve a high school couple whose relationship is blocked at every turn by the girl’s police chief uncle Warren (John Ritter). The wrong-side-of-the-tracks Jesse (Nick Stabile) also just happens to reside one trailer down from Tiffany.

Meanwhile, Chucky escapes his makeshift mobile home prison and does in his jailer with a deft push of a radio into her bubble bath. And just to rub it in, he repeats the chant that transferred his soul into a doll, placing Tiffany’s spirit into a bridal figurine.

The good news is that Chucky was wearing an amulet with the power to switch him (and Tiffany) back into a human body at the time he was gunned down by the police. The bad news is that he’s interred one state away in New Jersey and the dolls need a vehicle to get them to that destination. Tiff telephones neighbor Jesse with the offer of $1,000 to transport a pair of mannequins to the grave site.

Jesse hops in his truck, picks up g.f. Jade (Katherine Heigl) and attempts to elude the police gauntlet that Warren has set up to thwart the lovers. The cops prove no contest for Chucky and Tiffany, and the ensuing carnage pushes the teens into deep mutual suspicion.

Definitely accentuating the tongue-in-cheek elements of Don Mancini’s screenplay, Hong Kong director Ronny Yu provides an energetic style for this flight of fantasy. Eschewing easy campiness for a mix of cynicism and shock and with a tone that’s just right, “Bride of Chucky” has the requisite visceral quotient and the good sense not to take itself very seriously.

Cast is unusually strong for this sort of thing. Tilly embodies her trailer trash vixen with street smarts, humor and a somewhat tarnished heart of gold. Her trademark blend of sexiness and dry humor is well served by the vehicle, and she’s just as animated in doll form, sparring with Brad Dourif as Chucky’s voice in the fashion of a lethal version of the Bickersons. As played by Heigl and Stabile, the young lovers are given slightly more texture than is the norm, and Gordon Michael Woolvett, as their friend and Jesse’s beard, is a real standout in support. Alexis Arquette delivers another effectively creepy cameo, and Lawrence Dane makes the cop in pursuit a wellspring of emotions.

Bride of Chucky

Production

A Universal release of a David Kirschner production. Produced by Kirschner, David Gilroy. Executive producers, Don Mancini, Corey Sienega. Co-producer, Laura Moskowitz. Directed by Ronnie Yu. Screenplay, Don Mancini, based on his original characters.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Peter Pau; editors, David Wu, Randolph K. Bricker; music, Graeme Revell; production designer, Alicia Keywan; art director, James McAteer; puppet effects, Kevin Yagher; costume designer, Lynne MacKay; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Owen Langevin; assistant director, Myron Hoffert; casting, Joanna Colbert, Ross Clydesdale. Reviewed at Universal City Cineplex, Universal City, Oct. 14, 1998. MPAA Rating: R. Running Time: 89 MINS.

With

Tiffany/Tiffany Doll - Jennifer Tilly Jade - Katherine Heigl Jesse - Nick Stabile Chief Warren Kincaid - John Ritter Damien Baylock - Alexis Arquette David - Gordon Michael Woolvett Lt. Preston - Lawrence Dane Norton - Michael Johnson Russ - James Gallanders Diane - Janet Kidder Motel Maid - Kathy Najimy Voice of Chucky - Brad Dourif
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