Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 16 News List

A dull movie unfolds below ground

`The Cave' offers nothing new in the creatures-hunt-explorers genre

By Laura Kern  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Having worked as second- and third-unit director on the Matrix trilogy and Dark City, Bruce Hunt is no stranger to inspired and

stylish productions. But whereas those films managed to inject new life into tired territory, The Cave, his first effort as director, fails to generate anything resembling innovation.

A group of ace cave-divers are flown in to investigate an intricate maze system discovered beneath the ruins of an ancient Romanian abbey. Without much explanation the gung-ho team -- and two scientists -- are lowered uncomfortably deep into the earth. It doesn't take long to learn that they are not alone, and are soon being preyed upon by what look like cheap creature rejects from the Alien films, except these demonlike mutations can fly and use sonar to see in the dark.

What is left of the plot amounts to guessing who will be killed off next out of the token Asian and African-American guys, the girl in the skimpy outfit, the sexy female scientist with an English accent and the testosterone-pumped combative brothers. Not that it matters much -- the characters are so colorless and underdeveloped that their deaths certainly won't be mourned.

As utterly formulaic as the film may be, the elements for an edge-of-the-seat crowd-pleaser are, in theory, all present: a closed-off environment ideal for creating no-one-can-hear-you-scream suspense; stimulating underwater and wall-climbing action; exotic settings, shot on location in Bucharest and the Yucatan; and bloodthirsty villains.

It's a shame, a travesty even, that the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that in order to keep viewers from contemplating the absurdity of what they are watching the action must move at a pace that doesn't allow for it. But not only is the film dreadfully dull -- every time something potentially exciting does occur -- the scenes are so muddled and chaotic that it is impossible to make out what is happening.

As the vaunted leader of the expedition, Cole Hauser attempts his best Vin Diesel impersonation but fails to deliver even at this rudimentary level.

The rest of the actors turn in performances right out of the casting room, as if they were reading the lines from the appallingly bad script for the very first time, embarrassed to

discover that it's all been done before. And will indeed be done again. Let's just hope it won't be in a Cave sequel, a possibility the film's ending distressingly leaves open.

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