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‘Soul Survivors’ is a meaningless dog

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SOUL SURVIVORS — * — Melissa Sagemiller, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Eliza Dushku, Angela Featherstone, Luke Wilson; rated PG-13 (violence, sex, vulgarity, drug use); see the "On the Screen" column on Page W2 for complete listing of local theaters.

Playing a priest who might or might not be alive in "Soul Survivors," Luke Wilson ramps up his intense, good-guy earnestness to the level of parody. He's letting us know that he knows he's in a dog.

That doesn't forgive his participation in this abomination, however. "Survivors" is a truly awful mix of bad direction, nonsensical story line and dialogue that appears to have been made up on the spot. The only horrific thing about the movie is that somebody saw the finished product and still decided to unleash it on the world.

The plot, as such, begins with four teens (Melissa Sagemiller, Eliza Dushku, Casey Affleck and Wes Bentley) on their way to separate colleges and ready for one last party together. Sagemiller and Affleck are sweeties, Bentley is Sagemiller's "ex" who still yearns for her and Dushku is the cigarette-smoking libertine that every horror film needs. Even a terrible horror film.

The party is in an ancient-looking stone church with torches blazing outside. In case we don't get it, there's a sign at the entrance that says, "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." The dancers inside, most of whom look straight out of the "Rocky Horror" road company, are supposed to be capable of soul-sucking, because they have black hair and fingernail polish.

The kids skedaddle and then skid into a terrible car crash. Sagemiller, who apparently survived the smashup, must fend off demons from the party — and Bentley, who's trying to seduce her. She's also "visited" by her insipid dead boyfriend, because she didn't tell him she loved him before driving him to his death. "I never told him . . . that," she says a lot and looks away. (That kind of oversight can haunt a girl.)

The rest of the plot can't be deciphered. Here's what's clear, though: Writer-director Steve Carpenter thought spinning the movie's frames and inserting strobe lighting, loud music and a lesbian subplot would mask the fact that it's all nonsense. His direction is way off. He lingers a beat too long on most shots, allowing us to see the actors' expressions relax as if they don't know they're still being filmed.

Bentley, Affleck and Sagemiller don't make much of an impression, but they might have been too depressed to really act. The charismatic Dushku provides the picture's only compelling moments.

"Soul Survivors" is rated PG-13 for violence (a car wreck and some scenes of terror), simulated sex, lewd dancing and simulated drug use. Running time: 85 minutes.