I Know What You Did Last Summer
Director: Jim Gillespie. Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Ryan Phillippe, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki. Screenplay: Kevin Williamson (based on the novel by Lois Duncan).

The supreme and most surprising feature of I Know What You Did Last Summer is that it actually does keep you guessing as to the identity of its killer, and you actually do invest a small, slight ounce of yourself in hoping that these fresh-faced li'l kids won't take a fish-hook in the gut. Such statements should not be confused with an allegation that Jim Gillespie's movie or Kevin Williamson's script bear any dazzle of sophistication or extraordinary allowance of suspense. You have had tenser times at the movies, I am sure, but there can be no question that you've also done a lot worse.

Jennifer Love Hewitt heads a primary cast of four high-school students who unwittingly hit and kill—they think—a bottle-swigging fellow who happens to be ambling down the middle of a road after midnight. The reason the kids are on the road at all, much less in the kind of state that leads them to plow into a pedestrian, is that high school has just finished and the foursome is celebrating their final few nights of preening camaraderie and beach-side nookie before graduation sends them all to different corners of the country. There is a neat little dove-tailing of emotion to this scenario, which—though I don't mean to make too much of it—has these essentially good kids denying that they have killed a person at the same moment they are refusing the knowledge that they are all beginning to grow up and will soon say goodbye to their surprisingly fragile friendships. High school is as dead as the man they throw in the water, and you're not sure if the manslaughter they thus conceal is the reason for which these four grow apart or it it's a convenient scapegoat for a gaggle of teenagers who realize they just don't have anything to say to each other. Completely outside the realm of what matters in I Know What You Did Last Summer, but a nicely double-deckered structure, and reassuring evidence that Scream scribe Kevin Williamson hasn't totally abandoned his ambitions to elevate the genre by an inch or two above normal.

There's little to say about the plot of this movie except that the body the cast members bury seems, in Diabolique style, not to be quite as dead and drowned as they thought, and somebody out there—possibly the victim himself, or herself?—is intent on letting each of them know that what goes around does eventually come around. It's a simple formula, and none of the cast or the craftsmen do anything to muck it up. In fact, Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar deserve points for being decidedly game scream-queens, and Ryan Phillippe is credible as a swarthy enough lust figure for the Backstreet Boys set. (If you think that's not saying much, you're right, but then check out Freddie Prinze Jr.'s utter lack of charisma as the fourth corner of this double-dating squad, and you'll see what happens when beach-boy bravado goes bad.) Also turning up unexpectedly is Anne Heche, spookily mothlike as the addled sister of the man Love Hewitt thinks she and her friends dumped into the ocean. It's nice to see a talented actress take such a throwaway role and still seem like she's putting some heart in it, though I doubt they'll screen this at the career retrospective I hope Heche one day gets after a long and rich career.

The unfortunate truth of this genre is that success can be claimed by any picture that isn't as bad as you thought it was going to be. Certainly no element of the picture makes any strong impression, and if you saw this movie last summer and still know reliably what anyone did in it, yours is a stronger memory than most. Still, capable, serviceable disposability is a virtue in some things in life—diapers, razor blades, cheap cameras, and slasher flicks—and you won't feel too bad about yourself the morning after you watch this. C


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