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'Return to Cabin's' Intent Backfires

August 14, 2001|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Return to Cabin by the Lake" is exactly the sort of schlocky film that it sets out to make fun of. Perhaps there's meant to be some sort of irony in that, but if so, it's extremely hard to find.

As the "Return to" in the title indicates, this USA Network movie, which debuts tonight at 9, is a sequel to last year's "Cabin by the Lake." In that movie, Judd Nelson played a Hollywood screenwriter whose gruesome screenplay was actually a chronicle of his murders of young women. Though thought dead, he resurfaces this time around when he learns that a film is being made from his by-now-in famous screenplay.

As before, he drowns women in the lake near his cabin and plants their weighted, exotically dressed bodies in a grisly underwater garden. But now he's also knocking off the filmmakers who threaten to compromise his artistic vision.

The sequel is directed by Po Chih Leong, as the first movie was, and written by Jeffrey Reddick, based on C. David Stephens' characters. As before, the aim is to make a comedy thriller, though the result is neither funny nor chilling. Indeed, the story's silly, self-absorbed Hollywood types are played with such loud, over-the-top obnoxiousness that we merely end up rooting for them to be bumped off more quickly.

The plot's only twist bears a suspicious similarity to the Hannibal Lecter-Clarice Starling relationship in "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal." After infiltrating the set of the movie being made from his screenplay, Nelson's incognito screenwriter tries to invade the mind of the smart young woman hired to rewrite his script (Dahlia Salem). Nelson is so resolutely expressionless, however--so completely lacking in charisma--that it's difficult to believe anyone could fall under his spell.

Surf Report

SPECIALS

"Sleeping With the Enemy" maps the relationship of a Palestinian activist and Israeli police officer as it evolves from hostility to common respect (9:45 p.m. KCET).

MOVIES

In "Loser" (4:35 and 7:35 p.m. Cinemax), small-town freshman Paul Tannek (Jason Biggs) adjusts to the big city while warding off ridicule from his roommates and trying to woo Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari)--a hip peer who is caught in a twisted affair with her professor (Greg Kinnear).

SERIES

Frank Deford investigates what the defection of star Japanese baseball players to the U.S. spells out for the future of Japanese baseball on "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" (10 p.m. HBO).

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