Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 10/25/02

It is in the fun spirit of Halloween that we are inundated every October with horror movies which are usually somewhat creepy but at the same time mentally challenged. I presume it is in this same spirit that actors who normally involve themselves with projects that at least show a modicum of integrity sign on to these flagrantly stupid flicks. It’s sort of like dressing up for a Halloween party: you know you don’t really look like Queen Elizabeth, but that’s the whole joke. Such is the case with Ghost Ship, a willfully idiotic tale about a crew of ocean bound salvage experts who discover a gigantic 40-year-old ocean liner adrift in the Bering Strait with a full complement of good ghosts and true aboard. The trouble is, this movie was filmed last March. Maybe it wasn’t the Halloween spirit compelling those involved; maybe they were just still drunk from St. Patty’s Day. At any rate, director Steve Beck thinks he’s being serious, and so do writers Mark Hanlon and John Pogue. How embarrassing.

The star of this foundering vehicle is ER veteran Julianna Margulies, who plays the only female crewmember in a group of fearless, irreverent scamps aboard the tugboat Arctic Warrior. Her character, Epps, along with her father-figure Captain Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), are approached by a pilot named Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), who claims to have seen the long-lost ship from his plane. When they arrive, the crew discovers that this is none other than the Italian luxury liner Antonia Graza, which disappeared in May of 1962. What the crew doesn’t know (but what we learn in an early flashback) is that those onboard the ship all perished one fateful night when an entire dance floor full of people were tragically cut in half, mid-rhumba, by a steel cable which was apparently rigged up to do just that by some mysterious killer. Whipping across the large ballroom like one of those wire cheese-cutters they use at Hickory Farms, the cable felled everyone but a young girl named Katie (Emily Browning), who escaped this cheesy fate only because she was too short. Talk about getting by under the wire. However, she was forced to watch everyone from the captain (Robert Ruggiero), with whom she was dancing, to the sexy Italian woman singing on the stage (Francesca Rettondini), fall to the floor in bloody pieces, with horrified looks still etched on their faces.

Soon after arriving, the members of the Warrior crew go through the regular stock ghost-story experiences: they start seeing things (like the apparitions of those named above), they get a creepy vibe, and they start dying. But when they discover a box full of solid gold ingots (the customary cargo for Italian cruise liners of the 1960s), they are presented with a dilemma: forget the gold and get out of there, or keep it and be rich? And dead?

As usual, this ghost story is full of logic errors and plot holes too numerous to mention, but it doesn’t even distinguish itself from a visual point of view, as did director Beck‘s only other film to date, last October’s 13 Ghosts. The ship is ugly, the ghosts are boring, and the effects (with the possible exception of the cheese-cutter incident) are less than spectacular. The acting is generally adequate, but the actors are forced to utter such nonsense it’s hard to take them seriously. I’m sure Byrne, Margulies, and the others (including Julianna’s longtime boyfriend, Ron Eldard, and Isaiah Washington) found it difficult to deliver some of their lines with a straight face. If you’re going to be seen paying to get into this one, it may be wise to keep your mask on.

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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