What, you might wonder, is “The Wraith?” (which opened citywide Friday).

Well, first of all, it’s a title not yet used up by Stephen King.

It’s also a mysterious automobile--a ghostly black Dodge Turbo Interceptor--which materializes somewhere in the Arizona desert, and challenges the members of a local, murderous, teen-age gang to deadly drag races. (That makes it, we suppose, a drag wraith.)

And, finally, “The Wraith” is a real stinker of a movie, lacking even a spark plug of originality. In it, previously good actors deliver ridiculous performances: Like Charlie Sheen, who has to stand around looking mythic, and Randy Quaid, who seems to have phoned in his performance from the Broderick Crawford grunt-and-glower school for surly TV cops. (Only David Sherrill, as the deranged punk Skank, does anything praiseworthy.)


The movie has an absurd script, fueled by that current B-movie staple, the “idiot plot"--a plot that proceeds only because all, or most, of the characters, act like idiots.

You think this is harsh judgment? What would you call a heroine, who--after witnessing her boyfriend’s murder by a gang of slobbering cretins led by an obsessed maniac--misleads the police, hangs around constantly with the maniac (whom she hates), and flirts unabashedly in front of him? An idiot.

What would you call the gang? This crew acts like the East Side Kids on airplane glue, and keeps responding eagerly to the challenges of the Wraith--despite the fact that every time they do, one of them winds up dead. Idiots.

What would you call a local cop, who--faced with this outbreak of supernatural homicide--investigates by following everybody around, cursing and calling them slimeballs? An idiot.


And what would you call someone who hands over perfectly good, hard-earned money to watch a movie like this? (We’ll leave that unanswered.)

Is there anything good to be said about “The Wraith?” Well, yes. It’s been very well photographed by Reed Smoot--who, along with writer-director Mike Marvin (of “Hamburger: the Movie”), gets compositions worthy of the best TV beer and auto commercials. Against the low standards set by the rest of “The Wraith” (MPAA rated PG-13), that’s a real achievement.

‘THE WRAITH’ A New Century/Vista Film Co. release of an Alliance Entertainment/John Kemeny production. Producer John Kemeny. Director Mike Marvin. Script Marvin. Executive producer Buck Houghton. Camera Reed Smoot. Music Michael Hoenig. Editors Scott Conrad, Gary Rocklin. With Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Matthew Barry, Griffin O’Neal, Clint Howard, David Sherrill.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.


MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).