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TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D

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After innumerable remakes, sequels, prequels and just plain ripoffs, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” returns to the story of Leatherface by pretending that none of them ever happened and jumping off from the ending of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. It also offers a story that’s far more developed than most slasher fare. But the result is a picture unlikely to satisfy either fans who feed on the yucky, in-your-face blood-and-guts overkill of the slice-and-dice genre, or the more discerning filmgoers who saw a subversive social commentary in the original.

After a prologue that shows the Sawyer family—presumably including chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, aka Jed (Dan Yeager)—wiped out by a mob that torches their house and sprays it liberally with bullets, we learn that an infant had been rescued from the melee and raised by a white-trash couple that quickly leaves the little town of Newt, Texas (which, given that the sheriff’s cars identify them as belonging to Fannin County, must be somewhere near Bonham).

A couple of decades later the baby has grown into a babe—Kristin Miller (Alexandra Daddario), who’s living with handsome dude Ryan (Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson) and is shocked to learn she’s adopted when a letter arrives informing her that her grandmother has died, leaving her the heir to the family estate. Soon she, her boyfriend and another couple, Nikki and Ryan (Tania Raymonde and Keram Malicki-Sanchez) are off to New Orleans in their van, planning to stop briefly at Newt to check on the house. Along the way they pick up charming hitchhiker Darryl (Shaun Sipos). Of course, the stay is longer than they expect—or, for most of them, shorter in terms of enjoying the place. Because it turns out that grandma’s house isn’t totally unoccupied, and its resident doesn’t take kindly to unwelcome visitors (something that Heather could have learned immediately had she bothered to read the letter the deceased old lady left for her).

What follows, of course, is a series of killings, though to be honest, until a big splurge in the final reel, director John Luessenhop mostly eschews the orgy of splatter effects that have become obligatory in this genre since the torture-porn of the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises. (Heck, the movie is so decorous early on that after a street-level establishing shot of a dead armadillo on the pavement, it doesn’t show the beast being squashed by the tires of the passing van, but has them carefully swerve by the critter. And a scene in which Leatherface chases a potential victim into a crowded carnival is played more for laughs than shocks.) Luessenhop also thankfully forgoes the jerky, hyperactive camera style so commonplace in these kinds of flicks nowadays; together with cinematographer Anastas Michos he opts for steady, well-composed widescreen images, and even holds the obvious 3D moments to a minimum, thrusting blades into our eyes only occasionally.

All of that will probably disappoint those looking for more gore, who may also think that the movie is overloaded with plot. Not since Richard Franklin’s “Psycho II” (1983) has a script tried to follow some logic (garbled and riddled with holes though it might be) in continuing the story of an iconic madman in what amounts to an attempt to rehabilitate him. (One of Leatherface’s actions involving a grave even calls Norman Bates’ mother fixation to mind.) You have to give scripters Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms credit for doing something different from standard slasher fare in concocting a story that wants to make Leatherface, of all people, a sympathetic—even heroic—figure. But it’s a stretch to try to make that jibe with the portrait Hooper drew of him nearly four decades ago, and no message about family ties can wipe away all the blood that’s been spilled over the years.

While the new “Chainsaw” may be superior to most such fare in writing and direction, moreover, the acting remains pretty poor. Daddario’s main positive attribute is a well-toned midriff, which costume designer Mary McLeod assures is visible pretty consistently, and Raymonde does her slutty routine adequately. The guys are blander, with rapper Neverson showing off a buff physique but not much more, though Sipos exudes a raffish charisma. Paul Rae overdoes the Texas bit as Newt’s on-the-make mayor with a guilty secret, while Scott Eastwood is a handsome cipher as an ostensibly helpful young cop.

In sum “Texas Chainsaw 3D” isn’t as bad as you’d expect—it’s certainly a step up from previous 3D horror remakes like the “Piranha” flicks or “My Bloody Valentine”—but it’s further evidence that the kindest cut would be to leave these old movies alone.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE

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A movie about grandparents made for grandparents, “Parental Guidance” might as well have been titled “Granddaddy Day Care.” It provides a bland, predictable vehicle for what might have been the inspired pairing of Billy Crystal and Bette Midler—sitcom quality holiday fare that would be totally innocuous were it not for the now-obligatory presence in “family” fare of potty humor, projectile vomiting and comic slapstick (including, of course, the requisite crotch-punch). Very young children, grandpa and grandma may be amused by the combination of mildly naughty comedy and broad sentiment, but everybody else will find it instantly forgettable.

The script is credited to Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (known for their screenplay for the drab animated picture “Surf’s Up”), but the impetus came from Crystal, and he clearly provided much of his own characteristically rapid-fire dialogue. The set-up is as simple as any cookie-cutter seventies sitcom. Helicopter parents Alice and Phil Simmons (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) want to go off together to a convention where he’s to get an award, but his trusted parents—who usually baby-sit—are unavailable. So despite Alice’s reluctance, they invite “the other grandparents,” who’ve never been close to the kids, to pick up the slack.

The Deckers are a brash pair. Diane (Midler) is, as one would expect from the casting, an outsized personality, but she wants to seize the opportunity to bond with the children. But the real problem is Artie (Crystal), a motor-mouth who’s for years been the announcer for a minor-league baseball team while yearning to make it to the majors. (How the couple affords such a splendid suburban abode on the salary such a job must provide is a mystery.) But he’s just been fired, and doesn’t want Alice to find out. Anyway, he and the kids have never connected. (For one thing, they understandably find his Borscht Belt shtick incomprehensible.) Nonetheless, the Deckers accept the responsibility.

The result is just about what you’d expect. The grandparents clash with Annie—who’s reluctant to leave—on child-rearing tactics. While she pushes daughter Harper (Bailee Madison) to practice her violin incessantly, Diane clashes with the girl’s imperious teacher and urges her granddaughter to have some fun. While his daughter obsesses over her older son Turner (Joshua Rush), who has a stuttering problem, Artie confronts his speech teacher over her methods. And pint-sized entrepreneur Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) blackmails Artie repeatedly when he finds out about his misdeeds and demands recognition of his invisible pal, a kangaroo named Carl. There are also clashes over diet—the Simmons ban sugary treats while Artie feeds the kids cake that sends them into overdrive, and there’s an especially lame subplot about the family’s favorite pan-Asian restaurant presided over by a stereotype named Chang (Gedde Watanabe, the go-to guy for such embarrassing roles).

Of course the grandparents and kids ultimately find familial affection—though such methods, if you can believe it, as staging a game of kick the can in the backyard and teaching Turner to rattle off an archival recording of a baseball announcer’s famous outburst at the close of a World Series’ game. And Annie learns to respect her parents’ different approach while making up with the father she always felt ignored her. But there are plenty of sidebars in the script along the way. In a gag stolen from Jacques Tati’s “Mon Oncle” but badly flubbed, the Deckers are confounded the Simmons house, which is equipped with all sorts of modern gadgets. Artie takes Barker along on an audition with ESPN where he makes a fool of himself trying to look cool and the kid pees on Tony Hawk’s skateboard ramp and makes him fall down. In another potty-related episode, Artie accompanies Barker to a public restroom and sings to the kid in the stall, to the shock of everyone around. And there’s the tee-ball game where Artie makes a scene, leading the bully who’s been bothering Turner to wallop the old guy in the balls—but Artie gets even, and more, with the kid fast by responding to the assault by throwing up his hotdog all over the tyke’s face.

All of this is feeble stuff, and it’s made even weaker by the lackadaisical direction of Andy Fickman, who at one point simply stops things to allow for a supposedly impromptu duet between Crystal and Midler and draws cable-TV-level turns from the kids and the rest of the supporting cast. The behind-the-camera contributions are strictly mediocre, from Dean Semier’s cinematography and David J. Bomba’s production design to Marc Shaiman’s nondescript score.

There’s a place for movies like this—but it’s really on a family-oriented cable channel rather than in the multiplex.