THE SCREENING ROOM | “The Ruins” and “Leatherheads” both end up a few yards short

What's Up moviehouse critic Jennifer Morris applauds and abhors both mainstream releases

“The Ruins” weeds out the good stuff

It’s common knowledge that horror films are not often ruined by their final scene. Instead, these cinematic scare-a-thons are usually poisoned much earlier on, by cheesy actors, poor writing or a budget so shallow even the most spine-tingling of intentions leave the audience doubled over in mocking glee after the reveal of a cartoonish-looking nemesis. It seems for every good one released, a hundred more are sent straight to Blockbuster’s ever-crowded shelves.

But when it comes to “The Ruins,” a tropically set fright flick that follows four 20-something friends on a journey to a deadly archaeological dig, no such excuses exist. The actors, many of them recognizable indie faves, are more than tolerable. The script is, for the most part, a different but decent adaptation of Scott Smith’s fearsome novel of the same name. And the setting is nothing new but surely nothing inconducive to a spooktastic celluloid experience.

But the ending? Without spoiling the not-so-fun ending, it is a cowardly cop-out of the cheapest variety not worthy of the silver screen.

Director Carter Smith tells the terrifying tale of Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), four WASPs on a Mexican vacation who make that predictably dumb decision to go on an adventure which sounds like fun but is obviously a storytelling sham to lead them to their untimely deaths. That’s right, one of those “Poltergeists don’t really exist, so we should definitely explore that dark and twisty mansion beneath the swirl of stormy clouds atop that deathly cliff. You know, the abandoned one no one has ever returned from alive?”

In this case, it’s an ancient, out-of-the-way hillside, set near a Mayan village deep in the jungles of Mexico. Trouble is, once they step foot on the vine-covered Ruins of no Return, those friendly neighborhood gun-weilding Mayans won’t let them step off of it.

Needless to say, their vacation goes from zero to grisly faster than you can say “martini with a twist.”

But the thing about their story is this: there’s no Norman Bates; no Hannibal Lecter; no Col. Mustard with the nunchucks in the billiard room.

Just a curse-bridled mound of dirt covered in the world’s most evil thicket, which wreaks havoc on the over-privileged, under-worked Spring Breakers Four.

Though its depiction tends to be a bit trippy (think a sea of green polka-dotted by red flowers vibrating and speaking in unison), Vinezilla is actually a successfully frightening antagonist, making you feel like one of its hellish tendrils might just crawl over the back of your theater seat and creep right into your ear canal.

It’s a startling and gruesome ride not for the mildly nauseous of heart, but this gardener’s nightmare that has viewers itching in their seats for all the right reasons leaves them exiting the theater stunned for all the wrong ones.

The movie lurches to a stop far too quickly and with a horrendous veer from the book’s original wrap-up, as if the filmmakers were trying to throw the audience a measly, unwanted bone. It takes a turn that sucks all the goosebumpish fun found in the book out in one single breath, a little like it’s your 11th birthday and you just got a hand-me-down pair of sneakers when what you really wanted was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comforter.

Total bummer, dude.

If you want to truly be haunted, the book is the way to go, but if you have the stomach to handle it and don’t mind a store-bought finish, buy the tickets, pop some popcorn and don’t forget your Roundup.

“Leatherheads” is a few yards short of a win

It’s 1925, and college football is where the heroes live. Pro football is a thing of ridicule, filled with flask-slugging, cigarette-flicking screwuppery, punctuated every now and then with a touchdown.

This is the world of “Leatherheads,” a George Clooney “starring and directed by” picture show that’s filled with the nearly funny, but never quite buys a guffaw.

Clooney is Dodge Connelly, a 40-something pro football player who refuses to let his Duluth Bulldogs go down in eternal forfeit.

So he woos war hero and college pigskin favorite Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, NBC’s “The Office”), who incidentally finds the idea of being paid to play an attractive one.

Fans flock, sponsors clamor and Dodge chalks up plenty of tallies in the win column, and for a while, things are the bee’s knees. They are pro football players, hear them score!

But when Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) gets a tip Carter isn’t the conquering war hero he claims he is, she sets out to chop down his cherry tree and trade it in for the assistant editor’s desk.

Carter and Dodge develop crushes on the whistle-blowing pen pistol, and so begins the film’s ultimate match-up: the Young Buck versus the Cunning Fox with Miss Blonde Ambition smack in the middle.

The story is full of cute comedy, but falls short of outrageous humor. Calmly hued in the colors of the ’20s, it’s like the movie isn’t sure which genre it’s supposed to fall into, and so it doesn’t land in any of them.

It’s a little bit comedy, a little bit sports. It’s like the Donny and Marie of romantic football cinema.

But Clooney and Zellweger’s repartee is pitch-perfect, and just about enough to carry the film through to its final sunset scene.

It also marks the story of football, set at a time when Pig in the Pokes and Crusty Bobs are traded in for new rules and a slew of big time corporate sponsors (picture the first-ever coin toss, where the referees aren’t sure who’s supposed to call what. At least no one calls them Friendo).

Never quite side-stiching, the movie is a quickly forgotten one, feeling a little more like pleather than the real thing. But it’s enjoyable none-the-less. Clooney injects his cheesy A-list charm in just the right amount to earn a little slack for lackluster laughs, and the witty — though sedated — humor is enough to leave audiences feeling like their team may not have won the game, but the valiant attempt was A-OK. WU