(PG-13) 2 1/2 stars You"ve seen them in theaters. They come in late and chatter while searching for a seat. They talk to each other, or into a cell phone, even as the opening titles roll onscreen. Throughout the film, they repeatedly get up and go to the restrooms or out for more refreshments. When they are in the auditorium, you can hear them whispering during key scenes and giggling at odd moments.
Beyond the annoyance factor, these people raise questions. Why did they pay for pricey movie tickets when they are clearly more interested in socializing and eating than in watching a film? And what about the movie? Given their approach to the viewing experience, could they possibly have kept up with the storyline? Did they understand what triggered the change in the lead character and did they notice the crucial plot twist in the third act? I bring this up now because The Ring is the perfect movie for these people. The ghost story/gothic horror mystery meanders in shape and tone, dragging for stretches, then picking up energy. Sections of the production play like a fairly sturdy mystery story, while other parts make no sense at all. As for the fear factor, the movie mixes a few truly scary moments with others that are simply disturbing and many that appear clipped from a music video by some hack goth band. (Watch, for example, for the scene featuring a panicky horse on a loaded ferry. Easily the best segment in the movie, it is both frightening and disturbing.) While dedicated viewers may find the film as exasperating as it is spooky, the aforementioned theatergoers should have a field day. Whispering gossip to the friend while juggling a cell phone and a tub of popcorn, they can glance up periodically and go, "Ew, gross!" and, "Ooh, scary!" And during the dull spots they can head out for refills. Supposedly based on an urban legend, The Ring deals with a lethal videotape. After you watch said tape, which is packed with creepy images, your phone rings and you are informed that in seven days, you will die. This stirred up more questions. Will your death be more severe if you don"t rewind the tape? Can you get the same images on DVD and, if so, do the bonus materials include a profile of the vengeful spirit? Can the grim reaper phone you if you"re on Indiana"s "no call" list? And, after you are informed of your imminent death, will you then be asked if you"re happy with your long distance carrier? The film is based on a Japanese phenomenon. Koji Suzuki wrote the original novel, Ringu, and the resultant movie became the most successful film franchise in the history of the country, spawning two sequels, graphic novels and a 12-part TV adaptation. Koji Suzuki is now referred to as the Stephen King of Japan. The American version begins in Seattle where newspaper reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts of Mullholland Drive) goes into Scooby-gang mode following the death of four local teen-age girls, including her niece, on the same day. Her investigation leads to a mountain cabin, where she finds, and plays, the tape. Moment later, the phone rings and Rachel gets her personal seven-day death notice. The reporter turns to ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson) for help and he promptly gets his own death sentence. Shortly after, Rachel"s son Aidan (David Dorfman) also gets a look at the tape and a special call. Nice parenting, Rachel! Lucky for Mom, her criminal neglect provides valuable clues when it turns out that Aidan, who was close to his late cousin, also develops some sort of psychic link with the spirit of Samara (Daveigh Chase), a young girl whose soul is somehow linked to the tape. The investigation leads to a rural area, as the tone of the film shifts to that of a Stephen King novel (or a flashback in Sybil). Although this portion of the film trods familiar ground, it also is the most structurally sound, as director Gore Verbinski (Mousetrap, The Mexican) uses mournful colors and dark characters (Brian Cox does well as an old farmer toting a tractor load of guilt) to build suspense and a feeling of dread. Unfortunately, as the story heads towards its conclusion, the structure falls apart, leading to a formless conclusion that lacks punch, despite some shocking visuals. While The Ring can"t hold a candle to classic ghost stories/gothic horror mysteries, it stands above most recent fare simply because parts of it actually work. To best enjoy the film, try eating and talking to a friend while you watch. Or bring a flashlight and do a crossword puzzle. Whatever. With sufficient distraction, you just might be able to mistake it for something special.