2 stars (out of 4)
Ready to play? Great, I’ll start. I pick truth. Here goes: As a scary movie, Truth or Dare is about as frightening as a slip on a banana peel.
Eh sure, the dialogue is laughably trite (“We can’t change the past but we can work on the future!” “We’re not playing the game; the game is playing us!”). I’m still unsure how an elderly woman that has lived as a mute in Mexico for her entire adult life — and is crucial to the plot — can hand-write detailed messages in letter-perfect English. Still, at bare minimum, Truth or Dare is a brand of escapist thriller dependent on people jumping in their seats, hearts-a-fluttering. And that adrenaline rush is DOA.
Our heroine is Olivia (the appealing Lucy Hale of Pretty Little Liars), a college senior ready to spend her final spring break working with Habitat for Humanity. Her bestie Markie (Violett Beane) is having none of that and convinces her to join the gang for a trip to Mexico. Let the debauchery begin! No tearing it up at Senor Frogs for this group of pals, though. One night, Olivia meets some random dude that vaguely looks like Zac Efron (Landon Laboiron) and he persuades the gang to hike to a spooky abandoned church and engage in a game of Truth or Dare. (In case it’s not obvious, Olivia is a total pushover.)
Around the circle they go. Olivia denies that she has a crush on Markie’s boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey). Penelope (Sophia Ali) kisses Olivia. Another friend cops to selling illegal drug prescriptions to freshmen. And so on. Little do they know that a demon has possessed their game. And once they return to school, they must continue to play . . . OR DIE!!!! Example: Goofball Ronnie (Sam Lerner) walks into a bar. A girl approaches him and, with a Joker-like smile, she sneers, “Truth or Dare?” He chooses a dare. The demon girl challenges him to drop trou and show off his manhood. He jumps on a pool table, only to get a case of last-minute stage fright. Bye, bye Ronnie.
Call me a sucker for games inspired by 7th grade sleepovers and a title named after a provocative 1991 Madonna documentary, but I bought into the absurdly fun premise. Look, the concept of an ancient, vengeful demon taking out her anger via Truth or Dare is no sillier than teens dying off because they tempted fate in the hit Final Destination. Hale even brings a welcome dose of earnest credibility. With the stakes raised to life-or-death proportions, I waited in anticipation for her goody-goody character to egg a house, drive a car off a cliff, rob a bank or eat carbs. Instead, she is forced to go in the school library and come clean about . . . her BFF’s tendency to fool around with other guys. Boo. And once the friends start to outsmart the game, the rules abruptly change. Perhaps the screenwriters tried to stay a step ahead of the audience; I took it as a sign that they wrote themselves into a corner.
There’s a slick 2018 sheen to the proceedings, from an all-important group selfie to the gruesome death that goes viral. The gang’s best friend is Google. And those ghoulish demons forcing these to reveal secrets and embarrass themselves? “They look like messed-up Snapchat filters!” Olivia cries out. These modern touches can’t disguise the fact we’re still watching an old-fashioned — and highly derivative — genre flick. We still get the sweet virginal at the heart of the story, insipid adults asking illogical questions, a pretty blonde that thinks with her heart instead of her brain. (Jamie Kennedy’s Horror Movie 101 rules in the original Scream stand the test of time!) That’s fine to use a cheap yet effective formula with a proven track record. Not every horror movie can be a groundbreaking Get Out or A Quiet Place. If Truth or Dare had just ratcheted up the scares and the logic, audiences might be more game.
Truth or Dare opens in theaters on Friday, April 13.