High-profile deaths may come in threes, but high-concept movie ideas tend to come in matched pairs. The past decade or so has given filmgoers competing Christopher Columbus movies, animated-bug movies, potential-destruction-of-earth movies, and now rival nautical ghost stories, in the form of Below and Ghost Ship. The third strike for Dark Castle Entertainment, a production company devoted to draining all the fun out of campy old William Castle schlockfests, Ghost Ship stars Gabriel Byrne as a crusty sea captain in charge of a tough, Bruckheimerian crew. In addition to hosting a mini-ER reunion with Julianna Margulies and Ron Eldard, Byrne's tugboat employs first mate Isaiah Washington, who seals his doom by promising to get back to his beloved fiancée at any cost. Also aboard for the ride is a mysterious stranger who takes the ship to a legendary abandoned ocean liner that disappeared in the early '60s. The crew is initially overjoyed at what appears to be a huge payday, but before long, the ship is behaving like a floating haunted house, complete with rats, a skeleton, and a slew of soggy corpses. Countless interminable scenes of crewmembers with flashlights wandering through the titular vessel ensue, but the only sequence that registers is a grisly group vivisection of the ship's doomed final patrons. That pulpy ballet of violence stands out in part because the filmmakers see fit to repeat it—first as prologue and later as a kinetic expanded flashback—but also because it's the only segment that betrays a hint of energy or creativity. Otherwise, Ghost Ship is likely to appeal only to undiscriminating nudity- and gore-starved adolescents. The film does contain a final twist that's reasonably clever, but not nearly clever enough to excuse the hour and a half of grim drudgery leading up to it. Between this and his debut film, Thirteen Ghosts, special-effects specialist turned director Steve Beck may want to steer clear of films with "Ghost" in the title, as well as ghosts themselves.
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