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No One Cares What You Did Last Summer

First, a disclaimer: Having missed last year's I Know What You Did Last Summer, I deliberately put off seeing it until after viewing its sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. That way I could view Part Two without prejudice as well as be able to judge whether or not IKWYDLS virgins could fully appreciate the new film cold.

They can't. Contrary to how these things are supposed to be done, the early "shock" scenes in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer don't really work if you're unfamiliar with the setup.

And furthermore, if I had seen the original, I would have set aside my delicate sense of dignity and feigned an attack of agoraphobia or hydrophobia or even just the plain old screamin' meemies in order to avoid squandering another 101 minutes on such a transparent gobbler.

The first film was a surprise hit among young audiences, a fact that can be chalked up to either clever marketing or the long-term effects of this nation's decline in education. It benefited from the "hot new kid" name recognition of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, as well as from the presence of Jennifer Love Hewitt, who appears in one of those TV shows whose proliferation is one of the many reasons I am a film critic rather than a TV critic.

But alas, fealty to the big screen hasn't totally spared me: The overstuffed stew pot of television occasionally slops over into the film world, and the stardom of Ms. Hewitt (or is it Ms. Love Hewitt?) is yet one more little gravy stain on the domain of cinema.

To be fair, Hewitt is not the main problem with Summer pere or fils (mere or fille?). Blame for the former should be placed squarely on Williamson and director Jim Gillespie; for the latter, on screenwriter Trey Callaway and director Danny Cannon.

For those who missed the original, a brief recap: Two teenage couples returning from a high-school graduation romp run over a shadowy figure. In an attempt to cover up the accident, they toss the body into the sea, even after discovering that their victim is actually still alive. A year later, one of the quartet, Julie James (Hewitt), receives a note that reads, "I know what you did last summer!" A hooded figure starts to stalk the four, wantonly killing others along the way for no discernible reason. After much plot misdirection, Julie and boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) identify the killer as fisherman Ben Willis and dispose of him.

Or so they think.
Dum de dum dum!
The sequel opens with Julie, exactly one year later, having a nightmare about Willis. Her roommate Karla (Brandy) tries to cheer her up, but Julie is just a neurotic ol' gloompuss. An obnoxious DJ calls the girls' unlisted number--hint, hint--and asks, "What's the capital of Brazil?" When Julie and Karla answer "Rio de Janeiro," he informs them that they've won an all-expenses-paid vacation for four at a beautiful tropical resort.

(Just about now, those of you who got a B- or better in geography will realize there's something fishy about this radio giveaway. If I Still Know What You Did Last Summer were worthy of aca-demic deconstruction, one could argue that the heroines' sloppy study habits represent the Hitchcockian flaw that will trigger their subsequent travails.)

When Ray craps out on the trip, Julie finds herself paired off with Will (Matthew Settle), a lovesick swain with the demonic grin of Tom Cruise. Together with Karla and her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer), they take off for the Tower Bay Hotel, arriving in what seems to be a popular Caribbean paradise filled with bikini-clad babes and muscle-bound menschen. But it turns out that this is the last day before hurricane season kicks in. Amazingly, the entire island is deserted within hours, though some quick calculating--capacity of ferry multiplied by time remaining for ferry trips equals way fewer people than we see in the establishing shots--suggests that the filmmakers are no better at math than their characters are at geography.

The four find themselves trapped indefinitely on the island with only the acidulous hotel manager (Jeffrey Combs) and his "marginally trained off-season staff of five" for company.

Or so it seems, until a mysterious hooded figure starts picking off staff and guests, slashing them open like so many overripe melons with his prosthetic hooked hand.

Time elapsed from the figure's first appearance to the film's end is slightly more than an hour--an hour as devoid of genuine suspense as the original film. While it can be said in the sequel's defense that it's not quite as downright dull and plodding as its predecessor, it is still no more effective. Like the makers of Halloween H2O, Cannon and Callaway have exactly two tricks in their bag: the fakeout shock cut (there's someone behind you! Eek! Oops, it's just a friend) and the menacing figure scurrying through the background of a shot in which we can see him but the on-screen character can't. To this limited repertoire, the filmmakers add a gratuitous use of gore, rubbing our noses in closeups of torn flesh.

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