The director of Pathology is Marc Schoelermann, but the key to its sensibility lies with the screenwriters: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, credited as a single entity (“Neveldine/Taylor”). They previously wrote and directed the Jason Statham action picture Crank, in which Statham’s character had to keep his adrenaline up beyond a certain level in order to stay alive. That film was clear extension of a gearhead/videogamer mentality: energetic and entertainingly ridiculous, unabashed in its over-the-top velocity, but a touch meatheaded.

Pathology has a more traditional hook: gifted medical student Ted Grey (Milo Ventimiglia) works in a hospital’s pathology unit, where he becomes embroiled in a deadly (and messy) game conceived by other overachieving attendants. Led by Jake (Michael Weston), the students take turns committing murders on the sly, challenging the others to solve the crimes using their autopsy skills (they also drive drunk, smoke crack, and have sex with each other, I guess as additional handicaps). When it becomes obvious that only the most attractive students are involved, it hits you: it’s the board-game Clue meets Grey’s Anatomy, right down to the hero named for maximum pun-tential.

For a bloody horror movie designed by Neveldine and Taylor, Pathology begins with relative restraint, and Schoelermann maintains a sense of control (if not exactly decorum) throughout; the editing is smooth and the cinematography is polished, even well-composed. His aesthetic isn’t as addled or hyperactive as that of his writers, but Pathology still traffics in cartoony luridness, with most of the characters acting more like aggrieved junior high students than any plausible adult. The film is so debauched that Alyssa Milano plays the good girl (Ted’s barely-there fianc√©).

The bad girl, Juliette (Lauren Lee Smith) is more interesting — or would be, if the filmmakers had thought of anyone as characters, rather than bodies. Smith doesn’t overplay, like Weston, or appear board-stiff, like Ventimiglia, but every time Juliette approaches intrigue — her strategically placed (if predictable) lie about her past, or a quiet look of remorse — the movie backs away. Instead, the characters act more or less as expected until they’re no longer useful to the gore-oriented Neveldine-Taylor screenplay.

Pathology is all hook, no follow-through; it lacks even the pretense of a psychological kick. Even the explanations of those fetishized killings are underwhelming, without the kind of trickery you might expect from a movie about barely detectable murders.

Nonetheless, writers and director sound satisfied with the final product on the commentary track, wherein Schoelermann talks about shots and locations while Neveldine and Taylor josh each other, and all but giggle during the sex scenes. The interplay gives the commentary some pep often lacking from near-direct-to-DVD B-movies, though it still doesn’t protect the track from intermittent spots of silence, nor a general impression that Neveldine/Taylor can see much beyond their own work.

Some behind-the-scenes material, including brief words from actual Los Angeles pathologist Craig Harvey, explains more about the processes and specialties only glossed over in the film. It’s interesting stuff, but serves to remind the audience what Pathology lacks after its slick first half: the “mystery” part of murder-mystery, the “thrill” part of horror-thriller, the space between the idea and the bloody end.

RATING 4 / 10