No matter how many times Hollywood screenwriters trot out this tired hackneyed plot in failed horror movies there’s always another just like it around the corner. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: An attractive young couple Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) return to his family’s deserted secluded vacation home after attending a friend’s wedding reception. With roses petals strewn everywhere and a ring box in sight this was to be a night of elation for the couple--but something goes wrong. At 4:00 am just as things begin to pick up for them again romantically there is a loud knock at the door. Of course being mind-numbingly stupid movie characters they open it to discover a strange young woman asking if someone named “Tamara” was home. After that James has to conveniently leave for a while which leaves Kristen alone. What ensues is about 40 minutes of near encounters with three masked weirdos who clearly are not there to borrow a cup of sugar. When James returns Kristen must convince him there are people trying to terrorize her. It doesn’t take long before he gets the message and the two must use all their wiles to fight for their lives. Let’s face it this is not the type of script that’s going to attract Meryl Streep. Liv Tyler is the nominal lead and altough her rather expressionless weepy doll school of acting is an acquired taste she does prove she can scream with the best of ’em when the knives finally come out. Unfortunately much of The Strangers is ultimately reliant on the proposition that we care about this couple and their romantic woes. We don’t. Chemistry is nil between Tyler and co-star Scott Speedman whose bland performance doesn’t help matters. There’s really not much to say about the masked “strangers” (Gemma Ward Kip Weeks and Laura Margolis) who all act like zombies and speak in monotones. Glenn Howerton as James’ friend has some brief moments that threaten to liven up the proceedings but he’s in and out too quickly to make much of an impression. First time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino pulls out all the clichés associated with this type of film. You’ve seen it all done many times before in any number of pictures from Straw Dogs to the recent Funny Games and Vacancy. Bertino’s gimmick seems to be letting the audience not the characters in on what’s about to happen. So often we see the killers lurking in the shadows unnoticed by our clueless leads. Then they vanish. This pattern is repeated over and over milking the “suspense ” but not making much story sense. There are a couple of standard movie jolts here and there to mix things up but mostly Bertino proves himself to be a better tease than director. No Hitchcock this dude! SPOILER ALERT: We have a policy about not giving away the ending but it sucks. Just like the movie.
Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as Ryan Dunne the first local boy to break into the Cape Cod Baseball League--a stable of college all-stars who descend upon the idyllic seaside town for the summer to duke it out for pro scouts. Ryan is a fairly talented pitcher but tends to choke at key moments in a game. He's got a dad (Fred Ward) and a brother (Jason Gedrick) who work blue-collar jobs and (in a typically clichéd fashion) don't want to see Ryan fail as they have. But even with all the competition Ryan still manages to make friends with rowdy catcher Billy "Bru" Brubaker (Matthew Lillard). To complicate matters Ryan gets involved with the lovely and--surprise!--rich girl named Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel) whose father (Bruce Davison) is none too pleased about his daughter's budding romance with the "boy from the wrong side of the tracks." The pressures are mounting. Will Ryan make it to the Big Show? And if so will we care?
No matter what he does Prinze seems to be in this teen flick rut. His Ryan may be the most complex character he has played so far but that isn't saying a whole lot. The actor has decent range and is capable of tackling heavier material. It's just time for him to grow up. Biel known best for her role as a troubled daughter on the family WB show 7th Heaven gets to stretch her wings here and does a good job playing an unspoiled rich girl who doesn't care what her family thinks. On the flip side Davison falls right into the villainous father figure role without trying anything new. Lillard underplays his talented slugger from USC yet manages to add a requisite amount of flair when needed. Still like his pal Prinze he needs to move on and join the big leagues. However a true standout is Brian Dennehy as the demanding but understanding coach. He is one of those actors you can always depend upon to give you a good performance.
The premise of the story in which the action is centered upon the Cape Cod Baseball League is different but the script never digs deep. Apparently the writers felt subtleties in a scene wouldn't adequately display the emotional impact needed so every cliché in the book is thrown right in your face. For example Ryan's embittered and widowed dad who has long given up his dreams will be damned if he sees Ryan fail. There are the typical barroom antics as well as the sneering rival pitcher (Corey Pearson) who wants Ryan out of the way. Or how about the "fast" girl in town (Brittany Murphy wasted in this role) with a heart of gold. You get the picture. It's clear director Michael Tollin enjoys the game of baseball. The film steps up a notch when the action is on the field. However many directors before him have portrayed the beloved sport better.