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Rating: **

Starring Snoop Dogg and Pam Grier. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson.

Rated R for violence, gore, language, sexuality and drugs. Playing in area theaters.

"Bones" is the latest in a long line of socially conscious horror films made by folks (in this case, longtime Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson) who know exactly what they're doing.

For other examples, one need look only to the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," a complex meditation on McCarthyism, the first "Night of the Living Dead," with its direct assault on racism circa 1968 and how the Japanese responded to the previously unthinkable tragedy of Hiroshima by creating Godzilla.

Don't get me wrong: this is no masterpiece. The vast majority of "Bones" consists of haunted-house cliches we've all seen hundreds of times, from the meddling kids who just have to go poking around in the basement to the grisly special-effects sequences in which the dead spring back to life, maggots and all.

But weaving it all together is a tale that takes literally the oft-repeated theory that white law enforcement officials introduced crack into inner-city neighborhoods as a way of silencing minority voices. When it's not busy conjuring up red-eyed hellhounds and gooey corpses, "Bones" is one of the few recent movies to directly address the way the black community is divided by class and generation, or to suggest how the legacy of the 1970s carries over into the present.

At the center of the action is Snoop Dogg as Jimmy Bones, a slain ghetto leader who rises from the dead to seek revenge on the friends who betrayed him. Dogg comes from the John Wayne school of acting, which teaches that convincing line delivery is less important than a good swagger. One of the people he swaggers toward is that icon of 1970s "blaxploitation" film fame, Pam Grier.

As his former lover, Grier is obliged to deliver a multitude of wince-inducing warnings to the youngsters who have transformed Bones' now-decrepit mansion into a nightclub. Sooner or later, "Bones" degenerates into a third-rate Clive Barker gorefest. Along the way, though, it devotes significant screen time to haunting questions about real-life ghosts.

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