Dir: Ernest Dickerson. US. 2001. 90 mins.

Its touches of social conscience aside, Bones is the sort of horror nonsense that only really thrill-starved pre-Halloween filmgoers can be expected to swallow. Featuring rapper Snoop Dogg in his first starring role and boosted by a soundtrack that has already entered the music charts, it may attract US audiences - particularly young and black audiences - for a week or two. But thereafter - and in the international marketplace - this confused would-be chiller seems likely to die a quick and merciful death.

For the first hour, Snoop Dogg's title character appears fleetingly, in a series of flashbacks to a late-1970s urban black neighbourhood where Afro hairdos are still the fashion of the day. Jimmy Bones is a super-cool Robin Hood who cruises the streets doling out cash to the poor and needy. When he refuses to co-operate with a plan to introduce crack into the neighbourhood, Bones is murdered by a neighbourhood gangster, a crooked white cop and several reluctant accomplices, including his girlfriend Pearl (Grier).

In the present day, meanwhile, aspiring DJ Patrick (Kain) and his friends are trying to launch a dance club in the run-down house that was once Bones' headquarters. Patrick wants to help rejuvenate the neighbourhood, which has become infested by crime and drugs since Bones' death. He also develops an interest in Cynthia (Lawson), the sexy daughter of the now bedraggled Pearl. Playing like a hip-hop version of Scooby-Doo, the film spends much of its time following the gang around the spooky mansion, whose contents include an unpredictable devil-dog, a slew of shadowy ghosts and Bones' buried remains.

In the last act, Bones finally rises from the dead to get revenge on his killers and the film turns into a chaotic splurge of so-so horror effects. Internal logic is thrown to the winds but there are at least some moments of amusingly over-the-top humour as Bones turns up to surprise each of his betrayers in turn.

Director Ernest Dickerson (Spike Lee's early cinematographer and more recently the director of Juice and Surviving The Game) gives the film some lively visual style, but the look can't make up for a script that is uneven in tone and messily structured.

Snoop Dogg is suitably menacing (although he gets little real chance to prove himself as a screen performer) and Kain (Juice, Renaissance Man) and Lawson (a regular on TV's Dawson's Creek) make appealing youthful leads. Grier is largely wasted in a role that might, if it had been more developed, have given the film some much-needed dramatic substance.

Prod cos: New Line Cinema, Lloyd Segan Company, Heller Highwater Productions.
Dist : New Line Cinema
Intl sales: New Line Cinema
Prods: Lloyd Segan, Peter Heller, Rupert Harvey
Exec prod: Carolyn Manetti
Scr: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
Cinematography: Flavio Labiano
Eds: Michael N Knue, Stephen Lovejoy
Prod des: Douglas Higgins
Music: Elia Cmiral.
Main cast: Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Khalil Kain, Merwin Mondesir, Bianca Lawson