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Second “Saw” Film Barely Makes Cut

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, November 1, 2006

“Saw” was groundbreaking in its own right and “Saw II” does little to change what was presented in the first film, but it does have a bigger budget, slightly better writing and just as much gore.

The film starts with the killer, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), being captured by the police. As he is apprehended, he reveals a block of monitors that shows a room where Detective Williams (Donnie Wahlberg) discovers that his son and seven others are trapped with a nerve gas that will kill them. The police look on helplessly from another location not knowing how to find them.

While most people would work together to find a solution, this group is made of up ex-convicts and similarly dysfunctional people. The idea, while not original (“Cube” basically did the same thing and in a much more intelligent manner) still works because it is a larger group dealing with Jigsaw’s puzzles and traps at the same time.

It’s clear that this time the brains behind “Saw II” had both more money and more time than the first go-round. Although the writing falls short of award-winning quality, Leigh Whannell and director Darren Bousman’s co-written script is vastly improved from the first movie and better than most horror films.

While the performances are no better than expected, there is no one nearly as atrocious as Cary Elwes’ portrayal of Dr. Gordon in the first film – an absence that immediately translates to a huge improvement. Walhberg also does much better in the role of the detective than Danny Glover did in the original. The best parts of the movie easily involve the conversations and mind games between Wahlberg and Bells’ characters. Although not nearly as well done, those scenes are reminiscent of those between Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs.” This film solidifies Jigsaw as a reprehensible yet entertaining serial killer, much in the same vein as Craven’s Freddie Krueger.

Outside of the main characters the acting leaves much to be desired, with many of the performances decidedly overboard. Frankie G is particularly bad as a con who decides he is getting out of the house without any help from any of the others.

Television actress Beverly Mitchell (“7th Heaven”) is worse than expected, and spends most of the movie doing nothing more than coughing up blood. In general, the inhabitants of the house aren’t interesting – the audience just wants to see how they are connected and what happens to them.

“Saw II” kicks up the gore one more notch from the first film, with a lot more action, as it is not predominantly focused on two people stuck in a room. It’s also easier to follow since it only goes back and forth between two settings – the house of horrors and Jigsaw’s workshop, where he holds police hostage.

The DVD has several special features worth watching. The audio commentary by the director is both hilarious and insightful and the “behind the scenes” of the torture scenes would fascinate anyone who enjoys analyzing movie magic.

Fans of interesting and clever ways to slaughter will enjoy “Saw II” more than the original. And unlike others in the slasher genre such as “The Hills Have Eyes,” the people caught up in Jigsaw’s game are not necessarily stupid or innocent. The movie avoids many of the typical horror clichés – making it as enjoyable as “Saw” could ever aspire to be.