The concept of a remake might be a difficult one to grasp when it comes to the “Elm Street” series, since most of the eight films (yes, eight) have followed the same basic routine: a would-be dead man named Freddy Krueger, he of the striped sweaters and razor fingers, stalks young people who eventually vanquish him to the next chapter. Newly-minted number nine is supposed to be what they call a reboot, but sadly it's not quite up to that. The movie throws new actors and a few plot changes together into something that looks like the old 1984 original, if you squint hard enough. Otherwise it is an indistinct hash.
The new “Elm Street” is so bland, in fact, audiences who buy tickets before advance warning gets around will probably wish the film's makers had simply opted to extend the franchise with another of its more outlandish ideas, like Freddy battling Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th.” For those out of the loop, that is a real plot from one of the movies; there is also one in which a woman gives birth to a baby Krueger.
The first clue that we might not be in the hands of serious craftsmen this time arrives with the opening credits, which unspool over a too-long montage of schoolyard scenes — children skipping rope and whatnot. Already the movie has forgotten that it is supposed to be telling a story rather than referencing one, a frequently recurring problem
Lest we lose the most attention-deficit, the killing begins immediately as the new film passes on the chance to elaborate on the original story. Freddy's victims are introduced quickly. There's Nancy (Rooney Mara), Quentin (Kyle Gallner), Kris (Katie Cassidy), Dean (Kellan Lutz) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker). Nancy and Quentin are the heroes, notable for having rather obviously been cast and made up to resemble Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who play the teen lovers in the “Twilight” series.
Then there's Freddy Krueger himself. This is the first time that the iconic Robert Englund skipped the chance to don the fedora. Perhaps he read the script. Or maybe he does have an iota of shame. Whatever the reason, the mantle, as it were, has passed to Jackie Earle Haley, the former child star who recently portrayed a very similar psycho named Rorschach in “Watchmen.”
Haley isn't a bad actor, but he looks more like a halibut that washed up on a hot beach last week than a scary killer. Englund's Freddy was a terror. Haley's is more like a tweaker with a sore throat.
The blame, however, lies with the filmmakers: director Sam Bayer, writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, and their overlord, producer Michael Bay. Bayer used to make commercials. Strick wrote the screenplay to “Doom.” Perhaps Heisserer is his best video-game buddy. Bay seems to have a thing for anemic, quickie horror remakes. “Elm Street” has the usual mind-numbing lack of imagination.
Frights are very few. Strick and Heisserer get a lot of mileage out of Freddy jumping at the camera from the shadows, waking his victim at the last second, but Bayer can't even make this well-worn antic work. Desperate, he speeds up the film and lays on the scritchy-scratchy sound effects, but to no avail. Those looking to be spooked by Freddy again might have to wait until he shows up, rubber knives and all, at the next Halloween party.
The house was packed at a recent screening, but it was telling when zero squeals emerged from the audience. The laziness and cynicism with which this movie has been made would be depressing if it weren't so comical. It is unbelievable to read that two sequels have already been planned. Hollywood may have run out of ideas, but it no longer believes that new ideas, or even well-executed old ones, are necessary. The guiding philosophy now seems to be that the right franchise and marketing will draw a profit no matter how rancid the swill that's dished out.
One can only hope some heroic teens someday fight back and put a stop to atrocities like this. (R) 90 min. *