Targeting the more traditional-minded horror-slasher-thriller fan, "Cry Wolf" is almost totally reliant on red herrings and the viewer's nervous reflexes. Auds anxious to relish the imperilment of appealing teens gave the stand-issue shocker a mild $4.4 million opening weekend, indicating a short road to homevid.

This review was updated on September 20, 2005.

Targeting the more traditional-minded horror-slasher-thriller fan — the one who prefers the old Wes Craven to the Craven of “Red Eye,” for instance — “Cry Wolf” is almost totally reliant on red herrings and the viewer’s nervous reflexes. Auds anxious to relish the imperilment of appealing teens gave the stand-issue shocker a mild $4.4 million opening weekend, indicating a short road to homevid.

It’s not that director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow doesn’t have a sense of humor or genre: At one point, his ethnically balanced band of practical-joking high schoolers almost leave their prep school for somebody’s lake house — the fact they don’t is a joke meant for the hardcore fan base. But genre eventually overwhelms ingenuity.

Our hero, so to speak, is English-accented Owen (Julian Morris), frequent transfer student — due to various offenses, which include having dated the previous dean’s daughter. His current encounter is with the saucy Dodger (Lindy Booth). While Booth slinks through the movie like a ¾-scale Nicole Kidman, Morris seems to think he’s in an episode of “Brideshead Revisited.” Not that this is bad: They’re enough unlike the characters found in similar movies as to inspire hope the rest of the film will be half as novel.

It’s not to be. The rest of the cast meets the standard social criteria for the mayhem movie: Tom, the quasi-Neanderthal football player and Owen’s roommate (Jared Padalecki); Mercedes, the slow-witted sexpot (Sandra McCoy); Randall, the abusive and apparently Anglophobic piercing enthusiast (Jesse Janzen); Lewis, the black guy (Paul James), and Regina, the Asian girl (Kristy Wu).

There are surprises intrinsic to the storyline, in which the group concocts a scheme to link a recent local murder to a supposed serial killer. Via email, Dodger and Owen manufacture an m.o. for their killer — all of which suddenly starts coming true. Is the murderer one of them? Is he the seemingly decent journalism teacher, Mr. Walker (a very decent Jon Bon Jovi)? Or is it … someone else?

There’s not enough tension to make the viewer care that muchfor the various hoaxes and faux-slayings perpetrated by the film’s largely unlikable gang of privileged brats.

In an era of increasingly sophisticated thrillers, “Cry Wolf” is a bit antique.

Cry Wolf

Production

A Rogue Pictures release of a Hypnotic Prods. film. Produced by Beau Bauman. Executive producers, David Bartis, Doug Liman. Co-executive producer, Gene Klein. Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Screenplay, Wadlow, Beau Bauman.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Romeo Tirone; editor, Seth Lewis Gordon; music, Michael Wandmacher; music supervisor, Julianne Jordan; production designer, Martina Buckley; art director, Julie Smith; set decorator, Angie Ratliff; costume designer, Alysia Raycraft; sound (Dolby), Glenn T. Morgan; visual effects producer, Julie Orosz; visual effects coordinator, Julia Gaudette; special effects, Andrew Carnwath; visual effects, CIS Hollywood; stunt coordinator, Steven Ritzi; associate producers, Steven Butensky, Seth Lewis Gordon; assistant director, Will Strayer; second unit director/camera, Geoffrey Haley; casting, Fern Champion. Reviewed at ArcLight Theater, Los Angeles, Sept. 18, 2005. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Dodger - Lindy Booth Owen - Julian Morris Tom - Jared Padalecki Regina - Kristy Wu Mercedes - Sandra McCoy Lewis - Paul James Mr. Walker - Jon Bon Jovi Randall - Jesse Janzen Mr. Matthews - Gary Cole Headmaster Tinsley - Anna Deveare Smith

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