(2003) * R
95 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Mathieu Kassovitz. Cast: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill.

What if Hollywood made a movie with a recent Best Actress which required her, rigorously scantily-clad, to run about screaming "I'm a rational person" as if trying to convince herself it was a good idea to step out of her trailer? What if that movie co-starred Robert Downey, Jr., who sadly needs any project that'll cover his insurance liability? What if that movie exploited the energy of a foreign talent behind the camera, who then turned around and used every goofy effect in the book to wring scares from a dingbatty script? Well, Hollywood moguls green-lit this movie. And they called it Gothika.

Can anyone explain to me why they called it Gothika? Never mind. On one hand, I wrote off the persistently bad dialogue of Sebastian Gutierrez to the fact that English is French director Mathieu Kassovitz's second language. And yet the film seems intentionally to underline its own badness. Can it be coincidental that the killer sports a "LIFE IS PAIN" tattoo or that star Halle Berry screeches straight into the camera, "What do you want from me?!" Come to think of it, this might have been a sequel to the classic Fat Boys-Ralph Bellamy collaboration Disorderlies; I'm not sure. Berry climactically intones, "Logic is overrated" like it's a Schwarzenegger kill-quip.

Berry plays a psychiatrist who blacks out and wakes up in her own penitentiary asylum, only to learn that she's murdered her husband. The hoary "I'm not crazy" premise requires Berry to be simpering and unlikeable for most of the film's running time, as the seriously cracked heroine tries to put the pieces together. She's also haunted by a horny Downey, who plays a too-suspicious colleague, and a ghostly girl (did I hear a Ring?) who bursts into flames and beats up Berry, both apparently cries for help.

This is the sort of movie crammed with dialogue that's sickeningly overripe ("You're not listening with your heart," "C'mon, honey, time to wash away your sins," "I cut his adam's apple like a piece of fruit on a summer's day") or thuddingly familiar ("Damn generator. Not again."). The best I can say for Gothika is that it seems to know how bad it is, while still allowing the open-minded matinee day-tripper to enjoy a squeal and a giggle. But this blue-tinged, senseless, Psych 101 dud wasn't quite laughable enough to earn this critic's recommendation as a good comedy. What do you want from me?!

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