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Jigsaw lives, but by now he's pretty dull

The latest installment of the slasher serial delves into the back story of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). The latest installment of the slasher serial delves into the back story of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). (Steve Wilkie/Lionsgate)

They might have cut class. They might have gone late to work. And after having seen a man rip his sewn mouth open and the head of another get crushed between two speeding blocks of ice, they stood in the lobby and discussed. The topic was "Saw IV."

"So he was trying to test them?" one young woman wondered, among her friends, apparently missing the entire gist of these movies about the trial-by-fire-minded serial killer, Jigsaw, yet sounding very concerned about the way number four had left us hastily set up for yet another installment. A group of guys several rows behind me didn't bother waiting to hit the lobby for their post-screening chat. It began like this: "That was weak!"

Hear, hear. "Saw IV" is no "Saw III." Just as "Saw III" is no "Saw II." But neither Lionsgate, the "Saw" distributor, nor the North American box office seems to care. I always leave thinking, maybe this time. Oh well. This round delves further into John "Jigsaw" Kramer's back story. In the soapy psychodrama that was "III," he had his throat slashed by an angry father and underwent several surgical attempts to save his brain from cancer.

But on he lives, this time in flashbacks. They explain how, because his girlfriend miscarried a baby, he became the passive-aggressive psycho we know today. His first victim was the junkie who caused her trauma. As Kramer, Tobin Bell specializes in the kind of mirthless sulking that suggests his salad days contained a lot of rotten lettuce. Way past grizzled at this point, he almost moans his lines like a corpse or the ghost of Christmas never. Getting to the true root of his evil may necessitate "Saw LX."

In the meantime, carved-up faces and impaled flesh are mistaken for suspense. Kramer's latest series of contraptions is aimed at two badly acted FBI agents and some cops from the first few movies - played by Donnie Wahlberg, Costas Mandylor, and Lyriq Bent or, under these circumstances, dim, dimmer, dimmest. Kramer somehow has left a series of tapes that one cop chooses to obey before time runs out - although the stakes seem pretty low this time. But Jigsaw is like God for idiots. He knows that that agent will bend over just enough to look at Jigsaw's trademark doll so it can shoot something deadly in her face at point-blank range. She doesn't even appear to know better. But that's why there's surely a "Saw V" or "VI" or "X" in the works. Neither do we.

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

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Saw IV

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Written by: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dustan

Starring: Donnie Wahlberg, Costas Mandylor, Lyriq Bent, and Tobin Bell

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 108 minutes

Rated: R (sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language)

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