Picks and Pans Review: Gothika

updated 12/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

GHOST STORY

Halle Berry, Penélope Cruz,
Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton

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Unsolicited career advice for Berry: You can be a scream queen at the start of your career or at the end, but 3'ou should endeavor not to be one in the middle, especially when you're still within spitting distance of having won, deservedly, an Oscar. Now, it's an accepted truth that there aren't that many great scripts out there for female movie stars, but what could possibly have attracted Berry to this brainless damsel-in-distress story?

Yes, she gets to play a psychiatrist, but once her smart-girl credentials are established, it's looney bin there, done that as Berry's character Dr. Miranda Grey ends up confined to the very same prison mental ward where she had been treating patients. Grey, it seems, has murdered her husband (Dutton), though the last thing she remembers before waking up in her nuthouse cell was seeing a wraithlike figure go up in flames as she was driving home to hubby. What really happened? Viewers will be long past caring by the time the movie arrives at its howler of a resolution.

Berry shrieks convincingly, period. Dutton and Downey, playing a fellow shrink, do their bit to keep things creepy and are to be admired for maintaining straight faces. (R)

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