PLOT A cursed videotape that kills its viewers begins making the rounds at a university.
CAST Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Vincent D’Onofrio
RATED PG-13 (gruesome imagery, brief sexuality)
BOTTOM LINE The third chapter in the “Ring” franchise is so slow and dull-witted it might actually kill its viewers with boredom.
When the horror movie “The Ring” was released in 2002, its story about an evil videotape that killed whoever watched it seemed technologically outdated. Who even had a VHS player back then? Fifteen years later, though, that tape is still floating around in “Rings,” the third film in the series. And this time, the video goes viral.
“Rings” introduces a youngish college professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), who buys the tape at a flea market (“Vintage,” he says approvingly) and promptly watches it. According to the rules, the viewer will die in seven days unless he can get someone else to watch it, too. Luckily for Gabriel, he’s surrounded by eager-to-please students, and distributing a video is as easy as pressing “send.”
The existence of a video death cult has some creepy-good potential (even though we already saw it in “The Ring Two”), but the movie quickly drops this idea in favor of a standard-issue mystery involving a small-town girl who vanished 30 years ago. If young lovers Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe) can find out what happened, maybe they can stop the curse.
From here, “Rings” becomes stunningly dull even for a February-release horror flick. Written by a three-man team (including Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman, of “A Beautiful Mind”) and directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez, “Rings” lays out all the usual clues (old photos, weird symbols) and plods through all the usual locations (the spooky graveyard, the decrepit church) as it tries to gin up suspense. Along the way, our two heroes serve as irritatingly brainless guides: Julia lacks all common sense (she insists on watching the video even after it sucks the life out of another girl), while Holt has a maddening habit of not answering his phone. At least Vincent D’Onofrio, as the menacing cemetery caretaker Burke, adds a bit of color to the dreariness.
Now that the deadly VHS has been digitized, it seems there’s no stopping it. The lesson of “Rings” is clear: We all should have stuck with Betamax.