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MOVIE REVIEW

Jeepers creepers, someone had to go and make a sequel

Bad horror films are where America's least-talented kids go to die. But the ones in the new farmland gothic "Jeepers Creepers 2" don't get picked off soon enough. There's a killer on the loose, and he's having a tough time figuring out which of the 20 or so stranded members of the championship varsity basketball team he wants to eat. (I say, start with the actors who have three names.)

As the genre demands, their school bus has broken down in the Heartland (or if you're a Hollywood movie, the middle of nowhere), leaving the boys and three girls to fuss and fight over whether to flee the bus or stay inside, trapped like advanced-placement sardines.

Victor Salva's sequel is set mere days after his minor 2001 hit. And it plays better as exasperating comedy than genuine horror -- although there is something terrifying about being stuck in a movie whose idea of a bogeyman is a scarecrow with an eating disorder.

To be fair, he can swoop down without warning and carry you off somewhere to do God knows what. But he's not scary enough to stir more than a chuckle when a newscaster announces that he's creating "a human tapestry of sadism and terror." Jack Taggart -- played by Ray Wise as a solemn piece of kitsch -- isn't laughing. The thing swooped down on his farm and took off with his boy. He's now determined to hunt it down. Once his CB picks up the cries of help coming from the bus, it's on.

This thing, this Creeper, as the credits call him, is part generic space demon, part bassist in an unsigned speed metal band: deadly but unduly righteous. (Jonathan Breck plays him.) On the bus, we learn from Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox) that every 23d day of every 23d spring, the Creeper eats till he's full. Seeing that bus on the road, he must realize he just doesn't feel like cooking tonight.

Mysteriously, Minxie -- her name is Minxie -- has caught the vapors, a condition that gives her visions of Darry (Justin Long), one of the first film's victims. He's a psychic hotline to the Creeper's intentions, which she shares with her skeptical schoolmates.

Salva offers only a vague logic behind his monster's killing. He makes up all manners of legend and myth, but it's the kind of mumbo jumbo that promises more sequels but no scares. Like its predecessor, "Jeepers Creepers" is suspenseful as long as you don't have to look its Creeper in the eye.

Surprisingly, the kids-trapped-on-a-bus plot takes longer to blow a tire than the bus. There are good, funny bits involving the passengers darting in unison from one side of the bus to the other to see what's going on outside. But there's no way Salva can juggle more than 20 characters and a vengeful farmer and his scarecrow. After a while he just gives up -- even on the schvitzing nerd Bucky (Billy Aaron Brown).

The boys don't seem all that concerned about the pending doom, anyway. They have another monster in their midst: Scotty (Eric Nenninger), the blue-eyed sulker who's annoyed that he played in the big game for only 12 minutes. He cries reverse racism, basically calling Deundre (Garikayi Mutambirwa) a ball hog and berating Izzy (Travis Schiffner) for his alleged trip to a gay bar. Earlier, Minxie warned everybody that the Creeper preys on fear. So it's evidence of a major character flaw that it doesn't eat the racist-homophobe first.

Wesley Morris can reached at wmorris@globe.com.

Jeepers Creeper 2

Written and directed by: Victor Salva

Starring: Jonathan Breck, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Drew Tyler Bell, Billy Aaron Brown, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Ray Wise

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 105 minutes

R (language, violence, gore)

*1/2

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