Am I the only one who looks at the hook-handed killer in “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” and can’t stop thinking of the Gorton’s frozen-fish guy? We’re supposed to be leaping into our neighbors’ laps in fear, but one glance at this faceless lug, in his big ugly fisherman’s hat and slicker, and I’m guessing that Ronald McDonald would have been a lot scarier. Even the killer’s name is bland — it’s Ben Willis — and, more often than not, he has a peculiar way of terrorizing his victims.
Take, for instance, that lissome tulip Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt). After helping her college chum Karla (Brandy) win a radio contest, the two of them arrive, along with a couple of boys (Mekhi Phifer and Matthew Settle), for a weekend getaway at a deserted Bahamas resort. In the middle of a monsoon, Julie decides to use the tanning bed, and as she’s lying there with her headphones on, Ben Willis sneaks in, turns the dial up to extra crispy, and binds the door with what looks like a cheap little newspaper bundler. Julie’s friends burst into the room, there’s a lot of screaming and commotion, but really! — a pair of scissors would have done the trick. Even when Ben Willis plants his hook into flesh, it’s all staged rather politely: a hand spiked here, a dribble of blood there, with none of the outrageously gross, limb-splitting carnage that all but defined the slasher genre in its ’80s heyday. The gruesome payoff shocks are, by now, as generic as the who-will-be-the-next-to-die schematic.
“I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” lacks even the good, guilty setup of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” — the sense that the heroes are fleeing the consequences of their own crime. Of course, that’s just a fancy way of saying that this is an even thinner piece of plastic than the first one was. At this point, “Scream” and its (overcooked) sequel, with their dizzy, allusive, smarty-pants playfulness, have made it official: The audience for movies like “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” has become much, much smarter than the movies themselves. At the screening I attended, it seemed as if everyone there knew exactly when to expect a fake scare or a real one. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Brandy are actresses the way that Annette Funicello and Olivia Newton-John were, but the fact that both of these doe-eyed teen idols happen to be mini-industries means that there’s not much doubt about whether they’ll triumph over the killer. Hewitt, especially, looks as if she could fend him off with a quick flex of her abs. It’s not just her body that’s sculpted and toned; her entire personality seems aerobicized. She has no visible dirty thoughts, and that makes her the perfect star for a horror thriller so antiseptic you could eat off one of the corpses.