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MOVIE REVIEW

Who should live and who should die in 'The Hills'

Given the way popular culture is becoming fully on-demand, some day the movies might have to adopt the "American Idol" model and let the viewer decide.

At the megaplex, the most natural beneficiary of such an entertainment upgrade (if customizing your movies is something you prefer) would be horror fans. For years they've had to sit through hours of gems and dreck, watching macho men get an ax to the chest and wily lusty young women become Final Girls (the last women standing). This possible future would allow kids to vote for victims, decide survivors, and, ultimately, crown their own Final Girl.

Written by Wes Craven and his son Jonathan , "The Hills Have Eyes 2" is tailor-made for such a contest. Nine men and women of different races and varying degrees of intelligence from all over the country descend on an abandoned military outpost in the New Mexico desert. They're National Guard troops on a training assignment (destination: Kandahar ) that suddenly becomes a search-and-rescue mission after desperate voices are heard over the airwaves. Some of these guardspeople are more likable than others, and right away we pick up on who the family of lurking post-atomic cavemen should pick off first.

I, for starters, would have kept calling in to expunge Sergeant Millstone (Flex Alexander , the comedian) from this movie. He's the commanding officer, but his stiff orders didn't convince me he should have been in charge. He doesn't listen to anyone's advice, but he does keep reminding us that this isn't spring break. (All the skull and crotch bashing might leave you eager to see a bikini or some board shorts, though.) Lacking a beach, we're left to wonder if the anonymous rocky desert is meant to make us think we're already in Kandahar. The new movie is a pre-combat nightmare, whereas the first -- Alexandre Aja's effective 2006 remake of Craven's low-rent 1977 original -- was pure post-nuclear paranoia.

Obviously, the sequel is predicated on wavering common sense, most of which belongs to the most wholesome-looking pair of the bunch -- Napoleon (Michael McMillian ) and Amber (Jessica Stroup ), two privates. I would have kept them around for their brains. Private Crank (Jacob Vargas ) is the hothead who gives everybody a hard time just because he can. His volatility makes him enjoyably unpredictable: When will he do something dumb enough to get himself or someone else killed?

Things go gory fast. The cutest guy is yanked, left leg first, through a hole barely big enough for a thigh. Other people are left to splatter on the rocks. The cavemen are horny and need the two women in the crew alive, and Private Martinez (Daniella Alonso ) is bold (and foolhardy) enough to relieve herself alone among the crags. Her capture inspires a rescue mission within the rescue mission that's surprisingly suspenseful.

The director, Martin Weisz , doesn't lean on a lot of noise and editing tricks. He can relax, since all the scares are built into the Cravens' script, which invokes both "Goonies" and last year's instant-classic, chicks-versus-cave-dwelling-vampires flick "The Descent." "The Hills Have Eyes 2" isn't as entertainingly witty as either of those movies, but an assault and a near-assault actually almost make characters of the two women.

Any audience with good judgment and the right to vote would keep them around until the finals. We all know their revenge against the mutant hillbillies will be the most satisfying.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movie, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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