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Jeepers Creepers 2   B

United Artists

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Victor Salva
Writer: Victor Salva
Cast: Ray Wise, Jonathan Breck, Eric Nenninger, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Nicki Aycox, Billy Aaron Brown, Marieh Delfino, Lena Cardwell, Al Santos, Kasan Butcher, Travis Schiffner, Josh Hammond, Drew Tyler Bell.

Review by Rob Vaux

Normally, it doesn't behoove B-horror movies to press their luck. When an otherwise throwaway effort like 2001's Jeepers Creepers distinguishes itself from the crowd -- building a modest financial success from its unexpected wit -- it's best served by quitting while it's ahead. Naturally, that never happens. The honey pot drives the studio to start cranking out inferior sequels that succeed only in souring our appreciation of the original and clogging the 99-cent rack at the local Blockbuster. In stepping above the grime, they ironically serve to multiply it.

Jeepers Creepers 2 is different, however. It views itself less as a money-making grab than as a chance to reimagine its predecessor, taking the same basic notion in a different but equally enjoyable direction. Freddy vs. Jason (in which it is seemingly in direct competition) has a flashy gimmick to draw viewers. Jeepers Creepers 2 has no such luxury, forcing the filmmakers to work harder for our respect. Writer-director Victor Salva and his crew respond with the same gleeful energy they applied to the first film. The results aren't Shakespeare, but they do preserve its predecessor's modest charms.

Salva's premise hinges on returning slasher film conventions to their Grimm's Fairy Tale roots. His central figure, the Creeper (played here, as in the first film, by Jonathan Breck) has more in common with the Big Bad Wolf than John Wayne Gacy, eschewing too-hip one-liners for the type of menace found in small childrens' closets. Every 23rd spring, the ads tells us, it rises for 23 days to feed, selecting specific organs and appendages which it lustily devours. Its body absorbs whatever it takes -- your eyes become its eyes, your heart its heart, and so on -- leaving its victims basically intact save for one single part. The dark symmetry of that equation, coupled with Breck's eerily voiceless performance, makes the Creeper far more intriguing than many of its contemporaries. Jeepers Creepers 2 maintains the graveyard whimsy of its signature ghoul while providing some enticing new visuals (such as the Creeper's imitation of a scarecrow) to set it apart from its predecessor.

What it lacks are the first film's appealing protagonists, the bickering brother-sister duo of Gina Philips and Justin Long who brought instant sympathy to their Hansel and Gretel dilemma. This time around, we're treated to a busload of generic basketball players -- adequate for the film's purposes but otherwise unremarkable. They're on their way back from winning the state championship... which unfortunately coincides with Day 23 of the Creeper's feeding frenzy (shortly after the events in the first film). The beast decides to close things off with a jock smorgasbord: disabling the bus, eating the grown-ups and leaving the kids to figure out which of them is on the menu. Although Salva peppers the script with some sharp dialogue, the simple scenario proves too much for any heavy plotting. It makes a few attempts to probe the teens' collective psyche, but the results are thin and the large ensemble prevents us from really identifying with anyone.

It's sufficient, however, to deliver some great "Boo! Gotcha!" moments, which is really the purpose of the exercise. Salva has a knack for imaginative staging, turning the Creeper's stock stalk-and-kill sequences into cackling delights. Things pick up even further with the appearance of Ray Wise, playing a vengeful farmer who lost his son to the Creeper. Propped up on the back of his pickup and armed with a homemade harpoon gun, he resembles nothing so much as a drive-in Captain Ahab -- a conceit which proves far more entertaining than it sounds. Jeepers Creepers 2 also improves on the pacing of the original, which fell apart during the final lap. Here, Salva knows just when to call things quits, leaving us giddy and snickering but reasonably satisfied.

Hopefully, the studio will have the good sense to follow his lead. The delights found here are slight to be sure, and too much pressure -- say, from a Part Three -- will cause them to collapse. But for now, we can be happy with what we have. Jeepers Creepers 2 has no sins to confess (beyond the preponderance of nubile bodies, an uncomfortable reminder of the director's past) and performs its appointed task with exemplary goodwill. There's something about such fare that always elicits a smile; with Jeepers Creepers 2, can we honestly ask for more?

Review published 08.28.2003.

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