Less violent, less distressing and generally less down on life than Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes, this rote sequel is almost a tonal crossover from the horror genre to action, focusing on a platoon of armed-to-the-teeth soldiers who end up traipsing around the same abandoned nuclear test site full of hidden sinkholes, caves and other places out of which the prairie dog mutants from the previous film can pounce. Empowering this new crop of victims with massive assault rifles and other weapons is an odd choice, since the signature of the Hills franchise is a more pure form of victimization than an Aliens knock-off can deliver. Prior to now, the series has taken the trouble to flesh out the mutants as rape-crazy, biker-style predators who stalked unaware innocents, while The Hills Have Eyes II mostly uses them as pop-up monsters for blurry boo-moments -- here and there, a pickax-wielding mutant will suddenly appear behind one of our heroes, or a crusty arm will reach out of the darkness to yank someone backwards.

Unconvincing would be a generous way to describe the so-called National Guard troop served up for slaughter. Played by actors with no visible muscle tone and sporting un-colorful nicknames like "Private Mickey Mouse," the troop spends the first twenty minutes of the film enduring brow-beatings from the world's most cliched drill sergeant, who screams in everyone's faces and orders a slacker to stand on one foot with his rifle over his head. One of the troop members looks and sounds distractingly like Patton Oswalt doing a 'retarded soldier' character, while another wears a big bandana up around his forehead, which is also a grab from Aliens, if I remember correctly. The leads are played by too-model-perfect-to-be-a-grunt Jessica Stroup, too-wimpy-to-pass-for-a-soldier Michael McMillian and Daniella Alonso, whose entire character arc is boiled down to the fact that she carries a cell-phone video of her young son and watches it numerous times during the film, much to the boredom of the audience.