RINGS: 1 STAR

In the “The Ring,” a cursed videotape—featuring a short movie that looks like it was made by a first-year film student who had watched too many Luis Buñuel films—does the rounds, killing its audience seven days after viewing. Based on 1998’s “Ringu,” a masterpiece of atmosphere and psychological terror from Japanese director Hideo Nakata, it spawned a mini-empire with multiple movies, manga comics and television shows based on the original idea.

“Rings,” the latest addition to the continuing tale of the terrifying tape takes place 13 years after the events of the last film. Julia’s (Matilda Lutz) boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) has gone to college out of state. One night during a strange Skype call from his account a young woman appears.

“Where is the dead man?” she shrieks. “Tell him she's coming!” Unnerved, Julia hightails it to the school looking for answers. Seems Holt has become involved in a project to discover the meaning of the meaning of the videotape. The professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) thinks he can prove the tape is a doorway to the other side. If that’s true, it will also verify the existence of the soul and life after death.

There’s one big problem though, his students keep dying seven days after viewing the tape. The only way out is to make a copy of the tape and pass it along to someone else. With only hours to go until Holt becomes the tape’s latest victim Julia watches, and inheriting his curse.

“Whatever you were leave him alone!” she says. Instead of passing the death tape along she decides to get to the bottom of the mysterious tape and put an end to the evil forever. “No one is dying because of me,” she says.

That may protect the movie’s characters but the audience may die of boredom.

Can a horror movie that isn't scary still be called a horror movie? “Rings” plays on primal fears of the unknown and darkness, but fails to actually make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Some weird things happen—there is one cool image of Samara, the cursed girl, crawling out of a flatscreen TV to claim her victim—but it is mostly a collection of dimly lit scenes, loud sounds and jump scares.

More troubling than the bland leads or Vincent D'Onofrio reaching for a paycheque as the local blind man who may or may not have something to do with the supernatural goings on, is the movie’s complete lack of purpose.

Julia sets off to figure out why this videotape is a death sentence to anyone who sees it. Good idea for a movie. There is an investigation and she uncovers certain things but (THIS IS A MILD SPOILER) there is no explanation as to how or why Samara ended up on tape and how the tape was distributed. None. Things happen but they have little to nothing to do with the already established “Ring” mythology.

It was as if the three—count ‘em three—screenwriters—including Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman—lost interest in the story after the first hour. I know I certainly did.

“Rings” ends with the words “evil won’t stop.” It’s a set up to the inevitable sequel but in this case it sound more like a threat than the promise of more.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US: 2 STARS

In “The Space Between Us” Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is a regular kid with the usual litany of teen problems. Slightly nerdy and a tad socially awkward, he passes the time texting with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a pretty girl he’s never actually met. You see, Gardner is a normal teen in all respects except one—he lives on Mars.

Raised by scientists on the Red Planet after his astronaut mother died in childbirth Gardner lives in a settlement called East Texas founded by scientist Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). As the only human ever born on Mars he’s alone, save for an R2-D2 clone called Centaur, astronaut/guardian Kendra (Carla Gugino) and a team of scientists.

He longs for information about his mother so when the chance to return to Earth comes up on his sixteenth birthday he jumps at it, eager to track down Tulsa and find his biological father.

On Earth he marvels at the colour of the sky, the feel of the ocean but worries that he’ll be sent back to Mars before he has the chance to really live. He escapes, on a quest to find Tulsa and daddy, a man he never met. The boy who fell to Earth finds Tulsa and together they go off in search of papa with Shepherd and Kendra hot on their tails.

Is “The Space Between Us” a sci-fi film? Ish! Is it a teen adventure? Almost! Is it a doomed teen movie? Sorta! A romance? Not really! A fish out of water flick? Kinda! Is it a road trip? Maybe! It’s all those things and more wrapped up in an underwhelming Young Adult story.

At the centre of it all is Butterfield whose wide eyes give him a slightly otherworldly look, perfectly suited to play Tulsa’s favourite Martian. Robertson is spunky and even if everything that happens doesn’t really make sense, the two leads are appealing.

They stand in stark contrast to Oldman chews the scenery with unusual gusto. He overdoes it all the way, emoting as if acting was going to be declared illegal the next day and he’d never have a chance to do it again.

“The Space Between Us” ak.a. “The Loneliest Boy On Mars” has some good moments but in its attempt to be all things—see paragraph four of this review—clutters up a story that would have been better served by streamlining the story and tone.

THE COMEDIAN: 2 STARS

For many film fans the chance to see Robert De Niro reteamed with “Taxi Driver” co-star Harvey Keitel or his “Midnight Run” buddy Charles Grodin would be irresistible. The kind of magic created in those pair ups is the stuff of legend. “The Comedian,” a new film directed by Taylor Hackford, mixes and matches De Niro with his former co-stars but fails to recapture old glories.

De Niro is Jackie Burke, a comedian whose stand up career is in a downward spiral. Once a beloved sitcom star, the dirty-mouthed comic earns bad press when he punches a heckler at a TV Nostalgia Night gig and gets thrown in jail. After serving thirty days he’s sentenced to community service, working at a homeless shelter. There he meets the unpredictable Harmony (Leslie Mann), daughter of a mob boss (Keitel) doing time there for punching her ex-husband. They hit it off, spending time together as Jackie tries to rebuild his career. When he’s not insulting folks at comedy clubs he’s borrowing money from his brother (Danny DeVito) and making his manager’s (Edie Falco) life difficult.

“The Comedian” promises much. Keitel, Grodin, Mann and Falco are a dream team and De Niro’s turn in “The King of Comedy” suggests he might do something interesting with the Jackie character. Unfortunately “The Comedian” has more in common with “Dirty Grandpa” than “The King of Comedy.” Any movie that features a take off on “Makin’ Whoopee” retitled “Makin’ Poopy” isn’t aiming that high.

De Niro never convinces as a stand up comic. Jackie may be desperate to kick-start his career but apparently he’s not desperate enough to come up with material that might actually make someone laugh. Part of it is De Niro’s cue card delivery, part is the generally disagreeable nature of the character.

Jackie humour comes from anger but instead of channelling that rage into an interesting storyline, he simply punches a heckler or unleashes invective on those around him. In short, he’s an a-hole, an a-hole who is in virtually every frame of the film.

“The Comedian” promises much but doesn’t deliver and in comedy delivery is everything.