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The Fog

  The Fog
"Screw this. I'm going back to the island."`

© 2005, Columbia Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Like the ghost ship haunting Antonio Bay, "The Fog" (IMDb listing) is a hollow, lifeless wreck that never finds its port.

This remake of the 1980 John Carpenter classic revolves around the town of Antonio Bay on a remote island off the coast of Oregon as it prepares a dedication ceremony in honor of its four founding fathers. The unearthing of mysterious treasures from a shipwreck more than a century ago seems to rouse the restless ships' spirits, who have come to exact revenge on the decedents of the town's founders. The angry apparitions move through and within a fog bank, ultimately enshrouding the town and picking off residents until their revenge can be sated.

While the visual effects are good -- effectively creating the feeling that the fog is itself an entity -- the characters are empty, vaporous apparitions, even before they're killed.

Elizabeth Williams, played by Maggie Grace ("Lost"), seems hard-pressed to pull off emotions beyond the snottiness that has served her "Lost" character well. Elizabeth's distressing dreams about fire and drowning grow tiresome after the second "flashback." Even the 13 year old sitting behind me got that it was a past-life memory after the first round. By the umpteenth vision/memory you feel as if you've been bludgeoned by this over-done plot device (one the original movie didn't resort to).

In the first few minutes, the audience has stopped caring about Tom Welling's (TV's "Smallville") character Nick Castle because he's smug, bossy and admits to cheating on his girlfriend Elizabeth on numerous occasions. Is that the way for our "hero" to behave? We should at least have to wait until the second act to learn about the flaws in our leading man. Perhaps director Rupert Wainwright ("Stigmata") was trying to shake off Welling's Superman image up front. But it requires the character to redeem himself from the outset -- something Nick never pulls off. Welling's well sculpted abs distract the audience for a minute, but not long enough.

The only character we feel some connection with is lighthouse DJ Stevie Wayne, played by Selma Blair ("Hellboy") who does a fair job of stepping into the role made famous by Adrienne Barbeau ("Swamp Thing") in the original. Blair gives some depth to her character. However, either through their tenuous emotional connection or just sheer age difference, we're not quite convinced that she's the mother of 12-year-old Andy.

The audience never really gets to know any of the characters. We're whisked around the island, back and forth between our core characters and other random folks so often that we stop caring about them and the menacing force threatening their existence. As in many films with an ensemble cast, we learn the most about our characters when they are interacting with each other in a group. Here, our cast isn't thrown together until the end, when it's too late.

Director Wainwright and adapted screenplay writer Cooper Lane ("The Core") miss the mark in this remake and replace many of the things audiences liked best about the original. The lighthouse, for example. In the 1980 film, despite the bizarreness of the fact that Barbeau's character would run a radio station from a remote lighthouse, it was interesting. The shots of her driving miles and miles on open, vacant land and then traversing down hundreds of treacherous steps to get to the building itself were confounding, but memorable. In this version, because the characters can just drive right up to the base of the lighthouse (a retro painted set that isn't consistent with the shoreline fly-by view), it becomes just silly -- and not interesting -- for her to be there.

In the original, Jamie Lee Curtis' character Elizabeth Solley (altered to Williams in this version) who, as a hitchhiker, provided an outsider's view to the madness enveloping the town. How she inexplicably fell immediately into the sack with Tom Atkin's Nick Castle was also a griping wonderment. The only real "outsider" here is the entirely new character of Spooner, played by DeRay Davis ("Barbershop"), who may only be in this mix to add some comic relief. He's not funny enough, though, to provide any lightness.

The geographic change from the Northern California coast to an island off the Oregon shoreline was also a confusing change. Setting the film on an island makes Elizabeth's appearance hitchhiking on the remote, seemingly unpopulated side -- presumably far from any ferry dock -- even more confounding.

It's rather obvious here that the budget went into the visual effects and not the script. There were a few frights that got the largely teen audience I screened the film with giggling afterwards. It was these moments -- and the hope of Welling or Grace revealing more skin -- that kept them in their seats and prevented them from throwing food at the screen every time Elizabeth wandered blankly toward the approaching fog or did something inane, which was often.

The original film was a decent attempt by John Carpenter and Debra Hill to follow up on the success of their classic "Halloween." Despite its smaller budget and basic special effects, it was able to convey an ominous dread that gripped its audience. This version never even gets its audience to ominous, let alone dread.

At the movie's end, my teen neighbors were rather unanimous in their cries of "What the heck? I didn't get that ending at all" or "I want my money back!" I got the ending. You probably will too. That doesn't mean you'll like it. You'll leave the theater in a fog of your own -- that is, if you're not fuming for plunking down your hard-earned cash to watch this vapid remake.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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