Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 90 minutes
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor and Peter Outerbridge
Craig It's finally happened.
There are now as many entries in the "Saw" horror series as there are live-action "Star Wars" movies. And like its past couple predecessors, "Saw VI" makes "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" look like "The Empire Strikes Back" in terms of keeping up the good name of a franchise.
Yeah. It's just that scary.
As an insurance executive, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) is used to holding the lives of other people in his hands. But when he wakes up chained in a dark warehouse, he finds that somebody else has the control: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).
Even after the death of the infamous serial killer, his elaborate machinations still are being carried out by his survivors.
As Easton navigates his way through a maze of intricate tests of self-mutilation and life and death decisions, his fate is overseen by Jigsaw devotee Lt. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Hoffman is obsessed with accomplishing his mentor's original plot of forcing people to appreciate their blessings and better their lives by placing them on the precipice of mortality.
Meanwhile, Hoffman's police colleagues (Mark Rolston, Athena Karkanis) are fast on the track of discovering that he has taken up Jigsaw's trade, and it's a race to the finish for Hoffman to cover his tracks and Easton to save his life and the lives of the others held captive.
He may not have the same powers as Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, but Jigsaw, aka John Kramer, just won't disappear from the "Saw" series. No wonder with the aloof, ominous portrayal that Bell gives the character in the perpetual flashbacks that have driven the movies since the beginning.
As for his disciple, Mandylor holds none of the inscrutability necessary for such a complicated killer, but it just drives home the point that the real center of the series is Jigsaw himself.
As the films continue, the victims get more and more diluted, and Outerbridge has the misfortune of playing one of the weakest characters yet. At this point, the actors just don't matter anymore - a collection of plastic mannequins filled with red corn syrup would be more frugal for the filmmakers.
Jigsaw's trademark torture machines reveal much more than just the innards of the poor suckers who get strapped into them.
All the cogs, gears and timing devices involved bring the contrivances of the story out to an embarrassingly plotted level, but the recent installments of the series add more and more to the needlessly intricate overall back story to the point where one more component will make it all collapse.
There's just no mystery involved anymore, as every phase of the story becomes less surprising than the last, with the poorly constructed characters rarely showing any kind of true humanity.
Still, compared to the train wreck that was "Saw V," it could be worse.
Starting with an opening scene of Jigsaw turning the screws on a pair of loan sharks (Tanedra Howard, Marty Moreau), the undertone of the movie has a sense of revenge on corporate America, as callous insurance man Easton gets to see the pain he's caused the people who don't measure up to his business standards.
It's not much of a message about health care, and it's about as subtle as a hypodermic needle to the chest, but something halfway topical is better than nothing.
The "Saw" series needs to cut its losses, but the open-ended conclusion of "Saw VI" lets us know that there is no end in sight. Referring to the series's advertising tagline, "If it's Halloween, it must be 'Saw,'" the only question on my mind come the end of October is this: Must it?