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May 12, 2006 |

By Miscellaneous | Film | May 12, 2006 |

You know what was great about Alien? It was different. OK, well, maybe it wasn’t really different; it basically just re-enacted the ’50s horror formula in the space age and added some non-moronic special effects. But that wasn’t all. It also had interesting characters and deliberate pacing, punctuated with genuinely shocking moments that sent you diving behind the sofa cushions. You know what wasn’t so great about Alien? Like many successful turns in cinema, it launched a dreadful salvo of imitators bent on miming the original without a modicum of its talent or ingenuity. Almost every monster thriller after 1979 mimicked the Alien modus operandi in one way or another, until gradually, like so much watered-down, sausage-filler cinema can do, it turned the refreshing taste of variation into ashes in our mouths.

Ladies and Gents, I give you The Cave — the latest churlish enterprise that tries to capitalize on an audience’s claustrophobia and natural fear of … well, freaking monsters. Thirty years ago, under an undiscovered abbey in communist Romania, a group of explorers (the movie never explains who they are or why they were casually spelunking) stumble onto a vast network of underground caves. We don’t know what happens next, but the music tells us it was Very Bad. Cut to present day — the cave has been discovered again, and a crack team of good-looking young exploring experts is sent to pave the way for its scientific investigation.

The cast comes right out of cliche school: Jack (Cole Hauser), the alpha male, pretty-boy renegade, Tyler (Eddie Cibrian, with dimples jackhammered into his face), and deep guy Buchanan (Morris Chestnut), who proffers “Respect the cave,” as dialogue and then expects people not to laugh at him. Then there are some stock characters: scientists and midriff’d babes (read: monster fodder). And, lastly, there are the Nasties themselves: giant lamprey-bats who proceed to disembowel our intrepid heroes one by one. And who can blame them? If some doddering naïfs started lurching around my home and saying “Respect the cave!” I’d probably want to eat their faces too.

I don’t need to tell you that The Cave is a bad movie. Audiences have long gotten a feel for these late-August thrillers, vomited by Hollywood onto lackadaisical film weekends in the (vain) hope that it will prey on moviegoer ennui and make enough money to at least cover costs. To that end, I can only tell you that The Cave is too damn boring to be successful at even drive-in camp: The exposition consists of the characters bollixing around in the dark for over an hour until the ghouls show up. Then, upon assaulting them, the action gets so herky-jerky and dark that the audience will have to personally consult the screenplay to find out what happened. There are also a couple of real doozies of plot twists thrown in, presumably for depth. Those aren’t worth much either.

First-time director Bruce Hunt, after serving as a second and third-unit director in The Matrix Trilogy and Dark City, reveals that it’s easier than ever to fail catastrophically on your first go-round, for it doesn’t matter whether he was trying to throw a new kink in the game with his “twists” and creature makeup, or simply to leech some bucks off a dying genre’s carcass, it all ends up as dark, languorous dreck that is almost as unappealing as a real-life dive into a watery hole would be. Then again, it’s possible that this was indeed Hunt’s purpose: Evoking transcendental experience through the slow effusion of plodding cinema. Could Bruce Hunt be a rising postmodern icon? On second thought, maybe this movie just blows.

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

The Cave / Phillip Stephens

Film | May 12, 2006 |

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