2007, Movie, PG-13, 94 mins


Adapted from a short story by Stephen King and directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom, whose credits range from the Oscar-nominated period drama ONDSKAN ("Evil"; 2003) to the super-trashy Clive Owen-Jennifer Aniston thriller DERAILED (2005), this hoary bogey tale was widely praised as a refreshing return to old-fashioned suspense after the excesses of "torture porn." If only it weren't such a torturous bore.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who once wrote a well-regarded but unsuccessful novel about a tormented surfer, now hacks out quickie books about haunted places and despises the readers who ignore his strenuous debunking and continue to believe in spirits that don't come in bottles. Which is not to say Enslin is a stranger to scary places: His psyche is lousy with the ghosts of his fizzling career, miserable childhood and failed marriage to Lilly (Mary McCormack), whom he abruptly abandoned after their little daughter's death. The disillusioned ghost writer is wallowing in sun-washed California squalor, catching a few waves and drowning his sorrows the time-honored way while trying to finish "Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms" when a mysterious postcard washes up in his P.O. box. Do not enter room 1408 of Manhattan's Dolphin Hotel, it warns! Enslin goes through the motions: 1+4+0+8=13. Spooky! Reports abound of guests checking in and then checking out via razor, rope or window. But the clincher is when Dolphin manager Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) curtly informs him that 1408 is "not available." Not next week, not next month, not ever. Convinced the room is the last chapter he's been looking for, Enslin packs his spook-catching gear, forces Olin to rent him the "evil f---ing room" (were it not for the film's teen-friendly PG-13 rating, Jackson would no doubt want the motherf---ing ghosts out of his motherf---ing hotel) and waits for the scary stuff to start. The minute it does, the movie starts a precipitous decline into flashy special effects, showboating psychodrama and multiple "gotcha!" endings that make it feel almost as long as the one-hour eternity Enslin spends trying to escape slime-oozing walls, extremes of heat and cold, and sundry malevolent apparitions.

There's nothing as chilling as a top-notch haunted-house tale like THE HAUNTING (1963). But 1408 is no HAUNTING or THE SHINING (1980), Stanley Kubrick's take on King and scary hotels. Simultaneously too tame and too obvious, from the unplugged clock radio that won't stop playing The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" to the dead-child blues, it's an overblown campfire tale that doesn't know when to stop. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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