You know the setup: a group of college students are steadily being slaughtered one by one. A faceless killer is to blame. As if the movie weren't ridiculous enough, this time his trademark is dressing in a shadowy, hooded parka that's not the least bit inconspicuous on campus.
The film's gimmick is that everyone is killed in the style of a famous urban legend. If pulled off cleverly, this might have been interesting... but clever is nowhere to be found in Urban Legend. The film rarely sticks to well-known legends, but instead veers off track and invents its own. Those that it does use tend to be of the "ghost story" variety (though, for some reason, they never get around to "the man with the hook"...). However, in order to duplicate these legends, the victims must follow an elaborately scripted path... this results in behavior even more inexplicable than the traditional "wandering in the basement alone" that has been so often used in horror movies past.
Following the lead of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend fills its cast with a slew of up-and-coming young actors. The lead character here is Natalie (Alicia Witt), who is mysteriously linked to all the murders and, shocker of shockers, has a terrible secret in her past. Other victim/suspects include practical jokester Damon (Joshua Jackson), aspiring journalist Paul (Jared Leto), party animal Parker (Michael Rosenbaum) Natalie's best friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart), radio host Sasha (Tara Reid), campus cop Reese (Loretta Devine), and the creepy folklore professor Wexler (Robert Englund).
You can never go into a slasher film with the hopes that you'll get adequate character development or a sensible plot. Urban Legend doesn't surprise there. However, you do expect a few thrills or shocks... but Urban Legend doesn't surprise there either. We're handed the few expected false alarms, but the real "shocks" of Urban Legend are surprisingly boring.
The script here is subpar even by horror film standards. The closest thing to innovation here are a couple of painfully obvious in-jokes about the cast. The film goes to such tremendous lengths to set up its elaborate death scenes that each one is rather anti-climactical when they finally get around to showing the results.
If you're addicted to the genre, I probably can't dissuade you with any comments. But, you'd certainly be better entertained by revisiting some old favorites on video than subjecting yourself to the painfully derivative Urban Legend.
[R - horror violence/gore, lanugage and sexual content] (Phoenix)