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'Ghost Ship'

That sinking feeling: 'Ghost Ship' can't raise a goosebump

Friday, October 25, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Ghost Ship" is dead in the water, in every sense of that phrase.

Julianna Margulies keeps up her strength in 'Ghost Ship.'

It's not scary, it's not visually distinctive, it's just there, waiting for Halloween but its R rating will (theoretically) thwart the usual teen audience for horror movies. If you're underage, it's not even worth sneaking into or pestering an adult to buy your ticket.

"Ghost Ship" opens on an unlikely but promising note. It's 1962 and a sultry singer is entertaining the elegantly dressed guests of the Antonia Graza, a luxurious Italian cruise ship. Within minutes, though, a taut rope of wire literally slices through the ballroom, cutting off arms, legs and torsos. Only a girl, who had been dancing with one of the ship's officers, is left standing amid the carnage.

'Ghost Ship'

RATING: R for strong violence/gore, language and sexuality.

STARRING: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne.

DIRECTOR: Steve Beck.

OFFICIAL SITE: ghostshipmovie.warnerbros.com


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The action then shifts to the present day and the crew of a salvage tugboat called the Arctic Warrior. Under the stewardship of the captain (Gabriel Byrne), they consider themselves the best in the business. When a stranger, a Canadian Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington), approaches them with photos of a mysterious vessel in the Bering Sea, they decide to ditch their plans and search for the ship.

To their initial delight, they find the Antonia Graza and decide to repair it and tow it into port. Murph tells his crew, which includes team leader Epps (Julianna Margulies), "Under the law of the sea, she's ours." They're thrilled by the prospect of earning millions until Epps begins seeing a ghost and the enterprise turns into a variation of "And Then There Were None."

"Ghost Ship," which fills out the cast with Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington, Karl Urban and Alex Dimitriades, largely is set at night or within the dark, watery confines of the rusty ship.

As unattractive as that is, it's to be expected but a movie promoting itself as a "haunted house story set on the open sea" should produce a gasp or jolt or slight scare. It doesn't, especially if you've seen "The Ring," which may be confusing and complicated but sure is creepy.

Director Steve Beck and co-writer Mark Hanlon aren't exactly A-listers. Beck directed "Thirteen Ghosts," a sorry remake about a widower, his children and a nanny trapped in a house "designed by the devil and powered by the dead." Hanlon wrote and directed a feature called "Buddy Boy" that apparently never opened in Pittsburgh.

For a veteran salvage captain, Byrne comes off like a wraith, although onetime "ER" nurse Margulies brings a nice blend of strength and compassion to her role. When someone advises her to "Leave the ship while you can," I kept thinking, "Go!" and take me with you.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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