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A Good Scare

The sequel to Insidious delivers the creepy

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. So, I've been developing a program to scare the shit out of myself. I start by waking up to a sunny day with a head full of last night's whiskey fumes. I supplement this discomfort with several cups of dangerously hot, coal-black coffee. Then, with my heart rate spiked, my paranoia roaring, my skin feeling tight like the cover of a baseball, I go watch a James Wan matinee. I've applied this method three times, and it is 100 percent effective. Without exception, it has allowed me to temporarily alter crucial aspects of the real world, rendering it completely terrifying.

Although my careless consumption of stimulants is certainly an important element here, most of the credit should go to Mr. Wan, who continues his streak of compact, purposeful ghost stories with Insidious: Chapter 2.

The story picks up shortly after the events of Insidious (2010), wherein Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) are confronted by the existence of a world beyond the tangible one, a world populated exclusively by very bad things. After that harrowing experience, the family holes up at Josh's mom's house for some much-needed rest. But such is not their lot in life; they're in for many more sleepless nights and lots more screaming.

As with any decent horror/suspense movie, I can't reveal much more plot without ruining some of the fun. Suffice it to say that Chapter 2 is most definitely of a piece with the first installment, and feels more like a continuation of that narrative than a follow-up. It is as scary and satisfying as the previous movie, maybe even a little more refined visually and structurally.

As someone who, until very recently, had almost no interest in the horror genre, it is no small thing to admire James Wan's work as much as I do. He has a distinct, rich visual style, a talent for drawing naturalistic performances out of his cast and deadly timing. He's building a truly impressive body of work and racking up major profits while he does it. Insidious: Chapter 2 only cost $5 million to make, and it had already made over $40 million by Sunday afternoon. Maybe Hollywood isn't circling the drain, after all. PG13. 106m.

THE FAMILY. But then again, Hollywood still insists on churning out bloated, pointless garbage like this. Coming from Luc Besson, a writer-director I once greatly admired (Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element still hold up) it feels even more insulting.

Mobster turned snitch Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro), his deep-Brooklyn wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids are in witness protection (in France, for no good reason). Because they're constantly making trouble and raising their own profile, their FBI minder (Tommy Lee Jones) constantly has to uproot them. This time they've landed in small-town Normandy, and it's fish out of water time. The locals are all provincial caricatures spouting off ugly-Americanisms, and the Manzonis respond with insane violence. The prospect of discovery and assassination looms, but Giovanni decides to write his memoirs while he's not beating people or working on town water-quality problems. And the 17-year-old daughter falls in unrequited love.

This thing starts misfiring as soon as it leaves the garage and never smooths out. The tone is uneven, the comedy doesn't work and the violence is both inappropriate and banal. Nothing original, noteworthy or surprising happens at all. The leads all give convincing performances, but these characters are beneath professionals of such caliber. Besson seems to have forgotten all the techniques and style elements that helped him make fun and interesting movies. Because this is neither. R. 112m.

— John J. Bennett

Previews

PRISONERS. Hugh Jackman is a father who goes off the rails on the hunt for his missing daughter and her friend, while Jake Gyllenhaall investigates. R. 153m.

Continuing

BLUE JASMINE. Cate Blanchett is a socialite on the cusp of a breakdown who slums it with her sister in this well made Woody Allen drama. PG13. 98m.

DESPICABLE ME 2. Gru (Steve Carell), the girls and the minions are back and saving the world in this fun animated sequel. PG. 98m.

ELYSIUM. Matt Damon turns workman's comp into revolution in this effective dystopian sci-fi with Jodie Foster as his sharp-suited foe. R. 110m

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Moving Civil Rights era tale with Forest Whitaker as a White House butler through the decades. PG13. 132m.

PLANES. Like Cars, but not. Really, not. PG. 92m.

RIDDICK. Vin Diesel entertains as the genetic oddity/anti-hero battling bounty hunters and bad weather on a dark, barren planet. R. 119m.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW. James Ponsoldt's heartbreaking adaptation hits all the right notes — a mature film about teen love. R. 95m.

WE'RE THE MILLERS. Implausible drug smuggling comedy wastes the usually funny Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Anniston. R. 110m.

THE WORLD'S END. Slow start, but a quality apocalyptic pub crawl with the boys from Shawn of the Dead and their mates. R. 109 m.

Returning

THIS IS THE END. The end of the world stoner bromance with Seth Rogan and company is back in case your short-term memory is fuzzy. R. 107m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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