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MOVIE REVIEW

Mommy's having a bad day

Ghost child and real child are a handful in a creepy 'The Ring Two.'

March 18, 2005|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

In "The Ring Two," Naomi Watts plays Rachel Keller, hard-boiled journalist, single mother of an eerily self-possessed child, and the woman partially responsible for unleashing a deadly, replicating media virus on the unsuspecting Pacific Northwest in "The Ring."

"The Ring Two" is the sequel to the American remake (written by Ehren Kruger and directed by Gore Verbinski) of the Japanese smash hit "Ringu." "Ringu," directed by Hideo Nakata, spawned a sequel directed by Nakata and a prequel not directed by Nakata. "The Ring Two" is directed by Nakata from a script by Kruger but bears little resemblance to its Japanese counterpart. None of this, by the way, has anything to do with the aforementioned media virus -- though the franchise does seem to spread like Ebola.

The premise of "The Ring Two" is that there's still a mysterious bootleg video being passed around that kills anyone who watches it within seven days. The video -- a collage of light goth imagery in sepia tones -- looks like something Joel- Peter Witkin might dream after a late-night enchilada. In fact, it's the nightmare imagery of a ghost child named Samara (Daveigh Chase), whose adoptive mother shoved her down a well years earlier, before summarily flinging herself off the nearest cliff.

In "The Ring," Rachel tracked down Samara's body and buried it, unintentionally exposing her son Aidan (David Dorfman) and his feckless father, Noah (Martin Henderson), to the curse in the process. When Samara kills Noah, Rachel realizes that she is dealing with more than a sad ghost child -- she's dealing with a clingy, cloying pre-adolescent incubus out to take over her life.

Which brings us to "The Ring Two." Rachel and Aidan have traded their high-rise condo in Seattle for a homey cottage in small-town Oregon, and Rachel has downgraded from her big city paper to a poky local one. The start of the movie finds a somewhat tetchy Rachel baking Aidan a deflated pie, trying to rationalize her guilt over making two copies of the tape (the second one saved Aidan's life) and suggesting her son start calling her "mommy." (The child declines, because " 'Rachel' is more your personality.")

Their self-conscious domestic bliss ends abruptly when a local teen dies with a Munch-ian scream plastered on his face, and Rachel realizes that Samara has tracked them down. (Somehow, Rachel accidentally freed Samara from her reliance on nearly obsolete video equipment, and though it's never explained how Samara recorded her nightmares onto VHS, her stellar success at self-distribution should strike terror in the hearts of music industry types and the like everywhere.)

She's wireless now, basically. Airborne and dangerous.

"The Ring Two" makes about as much sense as "The Ring" -- which is to say, pretty much none. Old loose ends get snarled together with new ones, and even though a little more information about Samara's background is revealed, her true provenance remains vague.

The illogic doesn't detract from the fun, though; the movie is as side-splitting as it is creepy, especially when it ventures into surrealistic nightmare imagery. Nakata can't help fully availing himself of the special effects at his disposal, but the sight of Sissy Spacek done up like Michael Jackson in a Witchiepoo wig is much scarier than the CGI burning tree that flames in Aidan's room.

Nothing compares, though, with the slithery awfulness of Samara, that faceless, waterlogged Wednesday Addams, capable of making a hair-clogged drain seem terrifying. Samara, who had two mommies in life, can't get enough of them in the afterlife. Now she wants to be in Aidan's place.

The tense, chilly Rachel is discomfited by her new role as a traditional mother, as is her son. The last thing she needs is Samara hiding inside Aidan's body, calling her "mommy" (the word has never sounded so chilling), and putting her in the awkward tautological position of having to fight her child to save her child.

Once "The Ring Two" finds its theme -- motherhood is terrifying -- the picture snaps together, delving with gusto into the collective what's-with-this-mommy-business jitters that seem to have lately been erupting all over the culture like a bad rash (the latest: Judith Warner's much-hyped "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety").

Soon, the people in Rachel's life -- from her new potential love interest Max (Simon Baker) to the doctors at the local hospital where Aidan lands with severe hypothermia and purple handprints all over him -- start to suspect her of abusing the boy. Even Evelyn (Spacek), Samara's birth mother, who has been institutionalized since she tried to drown the newborn Samara, the baby who never slept, keeps exhorting Rachel to "be a good mother" and "listen to her baby."

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