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‘I Know What You Did’ a Scary, Energetic Romp

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” isn’t the virtuoso work that “Scream,” also written by Kevin Williamson, was. Nor is it as nonstop frightening. But it is fun, energetic and fairly scary.

Its four young stars have exceptional poise and promise, and their presence contributes strongly to the film’s enjoyment, as does the film’s setting, a charming old North Carolina coastal community.

It’s the Fourth of July, and the four have recently graduated from high school. Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a lovely blond, has been named the queen of a local Independence Day beauty contest and plans to go to New York to become an actress. Her best friend Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a stunning brunet, is off to college, as is Helen’s rich jock boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillippe). Only Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a fisherman who is Julie’s boyfriend, is staying behind.

After a romantic idyll at the beach, the two couples get into Barry’s father’s expensive car with Ray insisting on driving because Barry has had too much to drink. Ray is driving safely on a deserted highway when suddenly there’s a loud thwack! In an instant the lives of the four young people are shattered by having struck a man who for some reason was standing in the darkness in the middle of the road.

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Julie, the most intelligent and mature of the four, insists on contacting the police immediately about the accident, but for a variety of reasons--well-elucidated by Williams--she is outvoted.

Jump a year ahead, and Julie faces returning home at the end of her first year at college with extreme dread. Guilt has taken its toll. She looks terrible, has nearly flunked out, and upon arriving home, is greeted by an unsigned note: “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.” The reign of terror has begun, reuniting the four to try to combat an unknown, implacable, intermittently glimpsed enemy, a looming figure in a dark slicker and a hat that obscures his face. He carries a fisherman’s curved knife.

There are a sprinkling of incidents in which we’re never sure whether they’re real or imagined, and the film’s denouement--which of course allows for a sequel--is awfully complicated. You may even find yourself trying to sort it out after the lights go up. But director Jim Gillespie, a Scot in his American film debut, has a terrific sense of pace and allows his talented cast, which includes Anne Heche as a lonely farm woman, to shine brightly.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong horror violence and for language. Times guidelines: Although its violence is standard for the horror genre, the film is far too grisly for children.

‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’

Jennifer Love Hewitt: Julie

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Helen

Ryan Phillippe: Barry

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Freddie Prinze Jr.: Ray

A Columbia Pictures release of a Mandalay Entertainment presentation. Director Jim Gillespie. Producers Neal H. Moritz, Eric Feig and Stokely Chaffin. Executive producer William S. Beasley. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson; based on the novel by Lois Duncan. Cinematographer Denis Crossan. Special effects coordinator John D. Milinac. Special makeup effects Matthew W. Mungle. Editor Steve Mirkovich. Costumes Catherine Perry. Music John Debney. Production designer Gary Wissner. Art director John J. Rutchland III. Set decorator James Edward Ferrell Jr. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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* In general release throughout Southern California.

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