Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

Rated R for intense terror violence and gore, strong language and some drug use

Score: 2 out of 5

If I Know What You Did Last Summer was a lesser cash-in on Scream that was still a worthwhile watch, then I Still Know What You Did Last Summer was the same thing to its predecessor that... isn't. All of the flaws of the first film are here, but without many of the redeeming qualities that made that film enjoyable. The actors are still wooden, the plot is still hokey and convoluted, and outside of two shots, the bloodshed is still way too light to merit the MPAA's descriptor of "intense terror violence and gore", but the thrill-ride pacing and quality chase sequences of the original are mostly gone, replaced by bad special effects and failed attempts at suspense. This film wasn't as offensively bad as, say, Valentine was, but there's very little reason to watch it except for diehard '90s slasher completists. It simply exists, and does little else.

The film takes place one year after the events of the original, with Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) attending college and trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). She's mostly moved on from the bloodbath, though she still suffers recurring nightmares. As the school year wraps up, she and her roommate/best friend Karla (R&B singer Brandy) win a trip to the Bahamas from the local radio station, and bring along two guys, Karla's boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) and Tyrell's buddy Will (Matthew Settle), who tries to hit it off with Julie. Once they reach their glamorous hotel in the Bahamas, it soon becomes obvious that the trip was a setup (for one thing, Karla and Julie's answer to the question that won them the trip, that Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil, was wrong), and that somebody connected to the events of the first film is trying to kill them, and Julie in particular. When Ray is attacked by a hook-wielding killer back in Southport, he rushes down to the Bahamas to reach Julie and her friends before it's too late. Unfortunately, a hurricane is bearing down on the island, cutting them and the hotel staff off from the outside world and leaving them with nowhere to run.

The reveal of the killer here is, if anything, even more of a stretch than last time, relying on a blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail that I don't even think was properly mentioned to the viewers before the big reveal -- and when it is revealed, it raises a ton of questions as to how this person was able to work his/her way into Julie's life without her knowing their secret. The killer's acting post-reveal comes off like a bad copy of the killer from Scream, and virtually nobody else is up to snuff either. Jennifer Love Hewitt's acting has slightly improved this time around, but she still mostly coasts by on her looks, as do her female co-stars Brandy (who's notably not an actress by trade) and Jennifer Esposito (who vanishes for most of the second act until the film remembers that it needs to give her something to do), all of them spending most of the film in bikinis, tank tops, and unbuttoned shirts to distract from the words coming out of their mouths. The guys aren't much better. Freddie Prinze, Jr. is still as wooden as before, trying hard to look tough and determined but coming off instead like a poser, while Matthew Settle was a one-note fratbro and Jack Black was downright obnoxious as the stoner stereotype Titus, a character whose death I eagerly anticipated from the moment he appeared on screen. The MVPs, such as they were here, was Mekhi Phifer as Tyrell and Jeffrey Combs as the hotel owner Mr. Brooks, the only ones who gave what I could call genuinely good performances. They didn't diverge far from "intense, badass black dude" and "creepy older authority figure", but they at least seemed to be trying, and they gave this film most of its life acting-wise over the course of its runtime.

Of course, the real "meat" of a slasher isn't its plot, characters, or acting, but the kills and the scares... and it's here where I Still Know really suffers in comparison to its predecessor. Put simply, the tight pacing and rapid thrills of the original film are mostly gone. While this film does have its moments scattered here and there, its attempts to build slow, creeping tension largely clash with the amount of stylization in the visuals, as well as the fairly chintzy feel of it all. Despite a bigger budget, it actually looks and feels cheaper than the original film, never really utilizing its exotic Bahamian setting (it was actually filmed in Mexico) outside of a red herring about Estes, a hotel porter, being a practitioner of voodoo. The "stormy" weather is clearly shots of the resort in the daytime, with bad day-for-night filters and rain effects overlaid over them; in the scene where Julie and Karla visit the hotel's gym, it looks more like a sun shower outside than a hurricane. The bad effects extend to the deaths as well, with highly noticeable CG blood effects ruining what were actually a couple of solid kills otherwise. This is a film that uses its budget more to look stylish and exotic than anything else, at the expense of the quality of the frights or even the quality of actually looking like a film that wasn't thrown together for the budget of a SyFy original movie. The direction here plays to the original film's weaknesses, not its strengths, and it works as well as you'd expect.

The Bottom Line:

This film isn't wholly irredeemable, with enough scattered moments of goodness to keep me from getting bored. However, it's a huge step down in quality from a film that really wasn't all that great to start with. Unless you're really bored and have nothing else to watch, or really want to see Jennifer Love Hewitt in a swimsuit, then skip it.

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