Eliot was wrong; October is the cruelest month, for film critics anyway. It's when the studios release all the dogs and insist that we review them. This week's dog is the remake of the Japanese TV film "The Ring," and you would think that producers Amblin and Dreamworks, which are Steven Spielberg's companies, might have done a better job, but there you are. This is October.
"The Ring" is the tale of a home video which, as the ads tell us, you watch and then you die. Actually, you watch it, then your phone rings and a voice says "Seven days," and then in seven days you die. What happens if you don't have a phone is not explained. As the film opens two teenagers are watching it, and sure enough they die. Only one of them is - was - the niece of Naomi Watts, who plays Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Rachel Keller. Rachel is asked to investigate what happened, and naturally the first thing she does is watch the video. Uh-oh. Not too bright, but then why else make the movie? So we have titles on screen: 'Friday, day 2.' Thank you.
Rachel, a single mother, comes burdened with her somber little boy, Aidan (David Dorfman, whom New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell describes as having studied at the Haley Joel Osment School of Acting), who stares at nothing, speaks excruciatingly slowly, and draws pictures of people he could not know. But - yes - he too has watched the video, adding that little frisson of fear that we are supposed to feel: How could we let a little boy die? In this case I would not be sorry to see him go.
Rachel enlists the talents of the boy's father, Noah (Martin Henderson), a video technician, and together they must solve the mystery, or else - well, you know.
It leads them to the Morgan Horse Farm, on an island in Puget Sound, though I was unsure whether it was the Morgan's horse farm or a farm with Morgan horses. In any case, they find scary Brian Cox there, and slowly - very slowly - they come to understand that many years ago there was a little girl (played here by Daveigh Chase, who was the voice of Chihiro in "Spirited Away" and the voice of Lilo in "Lilo and Stitch"), who has a long black wig that covers her face and sits in a blank white room and talks funny. Umm, okay.
I confess that when all is explained at the end, I did not get it and had to ask two fellow critics what the hell had happened; but when they told me I was still at a loss. There are more loose ends than in my wife's needlepoint. And then there is the question of the movie's lead actress.
Is this the great Naomi Watts who was so brilliant in "Mulholland Drive?" Because here she is essence of generic reporter, with no wit, no pizazz, no flair, no personality. The script is no help, and Gore Verbinski's direction relies for atmosphere on the repeated use of torrential rain machines making water like nobody in Seattle has ever seen in real life. Pass this one by.