Hollywood is so enamoured of all things J-horror -- Japanese horror movies -- that they've burned through American remakes of "The Ring" and "The Grudge," and are now scraping the bottom of the sake cup. "Pulse" is the remake of a 2001 J-horror film that was derivative and pokey, even before Hollywood got its hands on it.
Horror maven Wes "Scream" Craven was brought in to adapt the script. The minute he figured out that the Japanese title of the film, Kairo, actually translates into "Watching my wet kimono dry in the morning sun," he knew he was in trouble. So what he did to jolt some life into this tale of college kids who have the life sucked out of them after stumbling into a computer program was turn it into a Night of the Internet Dead.
It doesn't work.
Kristen Bell of TV's "Veronica Mars" brings nothing but a face suitable for extreme close-ups to Mattie, the girl whose boyfriend's wandering through MySpace has gotten him sucked into cyberspace. He's opened the wrong virus file and unleashes the dead, who apparently have been dying to send instant messages.
Christina Milian ("Be Cool") is Mattie's hip black pal -- i.e., a potential second act victim.
And Ian Somerlander ("Lost") is the smoldering tech-whiz who may put the electronic puzzle together.
Craven (who didn't direct) cooks up scenes to show the text message generation blitzing each other with input in bars, or late at night when they're supposed to be doing homework. He opens the film in a place that must hold special terror for the personally digitally assisted -- a library. That's the cleverest and sneakiest stuff in this, a commentary on a generation so wired it is vulnerable to anything anybody chooses to upload.
The effects, with death attacking through spectral digital ghosts ("White Noise"), are top drawer. But the only difference between this and "Stay Alive" is that it's about a virus, not a game, the only difference between this and "The Ring" is that it's a virus, not a video tape.
"Over familiar" is not a synonym for "spooky."
And the acting is so flat that when veteran weirdo Brad Dourif ("Lord of the Rings") shows up and chews up the scenery in a diner with predictions of "Armageddon," it's both the laugh it was intended to be, and the first time "Pulse" has shown a pulse.