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'Poltergeist' remake is fun for a while but crashes hard
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Madison Bowen (Kennedi Clements) discovers apparitions that have invaded her familys home in "Poltergeist." - photo by Josh Terry
POLTERGEIST Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Jared Harris; PG-13 (intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material and some language); in general release

Apparently our pop culture nostalgia for the 1980s is boundless. We just got a new Mad Max film, and before the end of the year well have installments for two other Reagan-era franchises: Star Wars and The Terminator.

But first? A remake of the Steven Spielberg-penned 1982 horror film Poltergeist.

Poltergeists official IMDB page insists that producer Sam Raimi and director Gil Kenan are going to reimagine and contemporize the original 1982 film, but outside of giving the cast some 21st century technology and enhancing the scares with a little CGI, the evidence is lacking.

The plot feels like a stripped-down version of Spielbergs original story. An all-American family encounters strange disturbances in a house built on a cemetery and calls in paranormal help when a group of angry spirits kidnap their youngest daughter.

As Eric and Amy Bowen, Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt step into the husband and wife roles Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams handled the first time around. Jared Harris is the spiritualist equivalent of Zelda Rubinsteins quirky Tangina, and young Kennedi Clements replaces Heather ORourke as the little girl with a strange affection for glowing TV sets.

Whether youve seen the original or not, the first act of the film faces the same challenge. Twenty-first century audiences are well-acquainted with haunted house stories, so when we see 6-year-old Madison Bowen (Clements) having conversations with invisible people before the realtor has finished showing her parents their new house, we know whats coming.

When things get rolling a box of hideous clowns in the attic bedroom, a static-plagued iPhone, a box of books with a flair for unique stacking patterns Kenan gives the scares a winking self-awareness that betrays the campy wit that launched Raimis career with the Evil Dead movies. Good times should be on the way, right?

After a late-night TV sance ramps up the party complete with the classic theyre here line Madison is taken away into an alternate dimension via her bedroom closet. Distraught, Mom and Dad do what any desperate parent would: They call the Ghostbusters.

Well no, not those Ghostbusters. A team of paranormal investigators and a TV spiritualist named Carrigan Burke (Harris) come on the scene to help, and right when Poltergeist should start getting good, it starts getting routine.

The disappointment is doubly painful because of the earlier promise. A mindless remake could be quickly dismissed and forgotten. But Poltergeists humorous edge and quality cast sets the bar just high enough for the film to bang its forehead.

Part of this has to do with the stripped-down plot. At 93 minutes over 20 minutes shorter than the original Poltergeist doesnt give us much of a story. Rather than give us anything new, Kenan decided to stay safe, and the result falls flat.

There was plenty of opportunity for a modern twist. We dont get a lot of character development in Poltergeist, but we know that Eric had been laid off, and the Bowens buy the house because they dont have a lot of options. The new Poltergeist could be a reflection of the recession, but nothing happens. Even the cemetery subplot feels underdeveloped.

For about 20 minutes, Poltergeist gave you the feeling that youre in for a fun time. But fun turned into routine way too fast.

Poltergeist is rated PG-13 for intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material and some language; running time: 93 minutes