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"Case 39
In this film publicity image released by Paramount Vantage, Renee Zellweger is shown in a scene from "Case 39." (AP Photo/Paramount Vantage)

What do you do with a crummy horror movie that has been sitting on the shelf for a couple, or maybe three, years?

Why, you throw it out in national release as a harbinger of Halloween and hope it’ll make a few more bucks on the big screen than it would on DVD. And, hey, you capitalize on its star power in hopes that audiences will think this is a serious movie that’s worth their time and money.

Such is not the case. Or should I say, such is not the “Case 39.”

Renee Zellweger stars as Emily, a social worker who visits the homes of children who possibly are being mistreated. When she arrives at the home of a little girl named Lilith (Jodell Ferland), she speaks with parents who are so weird-acting that they’d creep out any kid. The pair (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O’Malley) look exhausted, but they remain mostly mute when Emily questions them.

There are no remarks by the silent Lilith, but she does look with some kind of longing at Emily, who can’t get the little girl out of her head. Finally, the child makes a desperate call to Emily, saying that her parents are planning to send her to hell.

Emily makes a late-night run to the family’s home just in time to witness a disturbing scene involving the screaming girl and an oven. Her police officer friend (Ian McShane) accompanies her to the home, and is so incensed at what he sees that he dislocates the father’s jaw.

The couple, naturally, heads to an institution under the eyes of investigators and health-care providers alike. Lilith is taken to a children’s shelter. She turns her big, scared eyes on Emily and says forlornly, “But I want to come with you.” Emily decides that she’s going to fight for custody of this scared little waif, which she succeeds at.

Another of Emily’s friends, a child counselor (Bradley Cooper, “The Hangover” and “The A-Team”) says that Lilith is improving and urges Emily not to become discouraged when she hits some “speed bumps” with her new charge.

But Lilith isn’t what anyone is counting on. And neither is this show, which has at first glance a concept that could have developed into something interesting. Instead, it dissipates into an idiotic finale that will leave you scratching your head and wondering “What was that all about?”

Not much, let me tell you. Case closed.