“Saw” dances so masterfully on the brink of not definitivelysucking that, up until its ridiculous conclusion, it puts the mindand body at war. The mind hates it, but the body, unless you shitpretension and Pabst, will be raped and pillaged by loving warmfuzzies. Why? Because laughter feels so good.

After these pleasant feelings wear off, however, “Saw” is justanother terrible, terrible movie.

Cary Elwes (you’ll recognize him as a chubbier, grayer, shittierWesley from “The Princess Bride”) gives the worst performance ofhis career as Dr. Lawrence Gordon, who wakes up chained to the wallopposite young and stupid photographer Adam (Leigh Whannell).Between them is a dead man, facedown in a pool of blood, gun in onehand and a tape recorder in another. Though it’s obvious that taperecorder equals death, Adam and Dr. Larry use it to play their owntapes, found already labeled in their pockets. The good doctor’stape tells him that he has until 6 p.m. to kill Adam, or his wifeand child will be murdered.

The conductor of this charade is outside somewhere, watching,and has left clues for escape all around the room for Adam andLarry to figure out. Where normal folks would starve to deathbefore solving the first clue, Dr. Gordon and his little friend gofrom dense to super-sleuth and back again before you can say”contrived horseshit.” And yet “Saw” would have been five minuteslong if just one character had taken a peak out of the darkconfines of his ass; at one point, one says to the other, “By thelooks of these chains, I don’t think [the psycho] wants us to goanywhere.” Hmm.

More painful still is the wholly inappropriate comic relief thatWhannell, who also wrote the screenplay, must have injected intothe plot as an afterthought – when the duo discovers a camera thathas been planted on the other side of a two way mirror, Adam quips,”So this is what this is… reality TV!”

Since the monster who trapped them is a master at blueprintingthe deaths of others, it’s lucky he’s also an electrician,engineer, genius, puppeteer, cinematographer, set designer, poet,chemist, seamstress and millionaire. Why don’t they make moviesabout poor guys named Duane who use sharpened and deadly OregonTrail cards to habitually murder bureaucrats? Would a half hour ofDuane spare changing for bus fare to the food stamp office reallybe any worse than watching Cary Elwes deliver his crappy lines soforcefully that snot flies from his nose?

A slightly off performance would be one thing, but Elwes’ trulyappalling acting, juxtaposed with any fond childhood memories youmay have of him, is like catching Santa Claus sniffing around inyour panty drawer on Christmas Eve: a mixture of awe, dirtiness anddisappointment. He’s also aged enough now to remind childhood”Princess Bride” fans that, someday, they’re going to get old anddie.

While there are some unsettling torture scenarios and adisturbing scene involving a clown mask and a tricycle, anythingsalvageable is destroyed by the Hallmark-movie ending in which ourtwo main characters and their unbreakable spirits sob impassionedlines such as “My family needs me!” and “I wouldn’t lie toyou!”

Still, “Saw” manages to stay creepy and shrouded in mystery justlong enough so that during the climax, when the film plunges intoslapstick absurdity, the contrast induces shit-your-pants laughter.This can be fun, but not everyone has that kind of sense of humor.Beware.