Reteaming from their “Scream” days but without a knockout game plan, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson go through the horror motions in “Cursed,” which ponders what a sister and brother do when they’re bitten by a werewolf. Routine but unmistakably marked by the director-writer duo’s recognizable devices, pic is a kind of fanciful update of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and hardly deserving of being dumped in the marketplace by Dimension with nary a critic’s screening in sight. Craven’s name will pack ’em in opening weekend, but most commercial bites will be in vid.
Simply knowing that Shannon Elizabeth is the first victim of the marauding beast will make teen boys interested in “Cursed,” and they’ll have a rooting interest in Jesse Eisenberg’s nerdy high schooler Jimmy, who has lived alone with his sister Ellie (Christina Ricci) since their parents died in an accident.
When Ellie and Jimmy try to save Elizabeth’s Becky after they smash into her car, they are wounded by a huge toothy, furry critter, which then drags Becky away for dinner.
Eisenberg, just off a smashing perf in “The Squid and the Whale,” plays the ideal thinking boy as well as a punching bag for school bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), while Ricci’s Ellie puts up with abuse at work from bitchy publicist Joannie (Judy Greer). Ellie starts to feel strange — but perhaps not as strange as auds feel trying to figure out how she can be a staffer at “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn,” considering that Kilborn departed the chatshow last August.
Juggling their usual formula of pop cultures snipes and horror thrills, Craven and Williamson mine prime material by fashioning a Hollywood bash thrown by PETA, with guests dressed as their favorite endangered species — until one guest meets the wrong end of the loose werewolf’s fangs. Except for Eisenberg’s superb comic timing and his ability to make the familiar seem interesting, the high school scenes play like “Scream” outtakes, filling in time before the third act battle begins in earnest.
Ellie tries to get close to would-be b.f. Jake (Joshua Jackson), a producer of a fright show at a Hollywood club, but he seems out of sorts in ways that become clear when Ellie finds her body gradually taking on werewolfish dimensions during the full moon cycle. There are twin jokes here (first, with Jimmy and Ellie’s inner beast attracting the opposite sex; second, with Jake admitting that he’s been able to “live” with his mysterious ailments, not to be disclosed here), but Craven and Williamson don’t have as much as fun with them as might be expected.
Instead, pic wends its way through a fairly standard set of face-offs (one of which may surprise fans of the usually comic Greer), which showcase yet another example of effects makeup maestro Rick Baker’s fascination with wolf creatures.
Perfs similarly hit rote genre notes, while production package is as slick and handsome as one expects from Craven. CG effects and action look recycled from far scarier projects.