Richmond Scream 

"Cry_Wolf" turns the University of Richmond campus into a creepy boarding school, and that's about it.

Set in a posh coed boarding school, "Cry_Wolf" focuses on a thoroughly despicable circle of friends, much given to backbiting and mutual laceration, often of a drearily homophobic variety. When a newcomer (British actor Julian Morris) arrives, alluring queen bee Dodger Allen (Lindy Booth) inducts him into the hive, and the brats decide for once to turn their vindictiveness on the school at large. They cook up a rumor that an orange-hooded, knife-wielding maniac is prowling the campus. Within a day, mysterious e-mails from "the Wolf" appear. It turns out that (maybe) there really is an orange-hooded, knife-wielding maniac at large, who for some reason is furious about the free publicity these kids have given him. It takes a very long hour for the first of the rumormongers to go missing, leaving us to wonder if the Wolf has struck. Will he strike again? Or is it all a hoax within a hoax?

There's been a lot of promotional chatter on the Internet about this movie's sparing use of gore, which has been touted as proof that "Cry_Wolf" takes a more intelligent approach to the moribund slasher genre than we're used to. That's all hogwash. Much has also been made of the role text-messaging and cell phones play in the plot, as if that, too, were a sign of sophisticated engagement with the zeitgeist. (Note the Internet-referencing underscore in the title; the film also has its own featured page on Myspace.com.) But neither the absence of blood nor the presence of electronic gadgetry makes up for the tedium generated by the lazily recycled story.

Such pleasures that are to be had from "Cry_Wolf" were mostly unintended by the filmmakers. It's funny, for example, that throughout the course of the film, we see only one solitary teacher, possibly because of budget constraints. It's funnier that that teacher is played by Jon Bon Jovi, in a performance singularly lacking in charisma, even though his character drives — you guessed it — a sporty Chrysler. Locals can also get a kick from the UR setting, wondering, for instance, why Bon Jovi hauls a student to the Modlin Center box office when he claims to be taking him to see the principal (played, rather surprisingly, by MacArthur Fellowship recipient Anna Deavere Smith).

Even bad, poorly made films, of course, are sometimes leavened by the surprisingly sparky performances of little-known actors compelled to appear in them. That is not the case here. The female lead, Lindy Booth ("Dawn of the Dead," 2004), appears to have been given little in the way of direction, and she repeatedly resorts to delivering her lines in what seems the breathy whisper of a novice streetwalker soliciting clients. Moreover, she looks every bit of her 26 years, which adds a note of absurdity to her appearance in the tartan skirt that is the school's uniform for girls. Weren't younger actors who at least look like teenagers available on the cheap? Playing opposite Booth, Julian Morris does somewhat better, but what may be most striking about his presence is that it forces Gary Cole ("Office Space"), who plays his father, to adopt a British accent.

As a director, the prize-winning Wadlow alternates between staid, budget-conserving setups and occasional bursts of frenetic activity. His work in the latter mode might strike some as edgy, but addled would be a more accurate term. As if to compensate for the sodden pacing of the first hour, the last 20 minutes pass in a rush of predictably contrived attacks and revelations. All for naught. Because only the most perfunctory attempt is made to get us to sympathize with the characters, it's impossible to care what happens to them.

Still, UR looks great. (PG-13) 90 min. * S


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