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Mystery fades fast in boring 'Manor'

COLD CREEK MANOR — * 1/2 — Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Christopher Plummer; rated R (violence, profanity, sex); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

Be suspicious of movies that depict New York as a festering pit of danger and grime so incompatible with family life that right-thinking parents must flee with their offspring to the bucolic orchard of presumed tranquility that is small-town living.

Dennis Quaid huffs and puffs, his anxiety rising while he maneuvers an SUV through crowded streets as he carts his kids to school in "Cold Creek Manor." Get a sedan, man, you live in Manhattan.

When a child survives a close call in traffic, Quaid resolves to uproot his wife (Sharon Stone) and children and move upstate to the Land of Really Unfortunate Real Estate Choices.

He finds a bargain fixer-upper manor house that is strangely still full of the previous occupant's stuff, including family pictures.

Cause for concern? Not here, which is the first peal of the bad-movie bells. Either the characters are stupid or the filmmakers are playing the paying customers for saps. And the characters aren't stupid.

Stephen Dorff shows up as an ex-con who used to live in the house. He's cavorting with Juliette Lewis; tarted up in a short skirt, she shows a yard of leg and not an inch of sense.

If you're not napping and, really, that's a possibility, you figure this one out five minutes after Dorff appears; certainly no later than when Quaid visits the family patriarch (an almost unrecognizable Christopher Plummer) in a nursing home. The old man drops a clue that arrives with the subtlety of a cymbal crash in a library.

This dreadful little exercise in ennui doesn't just foreshadow, it virtually holds up cue cards.

It's not at all scary or even creepy. Mainly, it's tedious. You may find yourself laughing when you should be scared.

"Cold Creek Manor" goes bad early and never threatens to recover.

It squanders eminently watchable stars Quaid and Stone on a script where any sense of mystery and suspense are corrupted by contrivance. Dorff is appropriately stubbled and sinister, but Lewis is wasted as the pouty town tramp.

Give director Mike Figgis credit for effort. He dresses up the scenes inside the house with some inventive point-of-view shots, but it's like a pitcher with a sore arm trying to get to the late innings by tossing up lots of junk to cover for a lack of heat.

Figgis is hamstrung with a script that flits fitfully from scene to scene, utterly devoid of connective tissue.

At one point, Stone says, "I'm having a hard time relating to this." Hey, girlfriend, welcome to the club.

"Cold Creek Manor" is rated R for scenes of horror violence, occasional use of strong sexual profanity and brief scenes of simulated sex. Running time: 119 minutes.