Three Thrillers from Sony Pictures
The Cave (December 27/05)
The Cave is a dull, thoroughly unpleasant horror flick revolving around a subterranean expedition that goes awry following the appearance of several blood-thirsty monsters. Filled to the brim with under-developed characters and seriously inept dialogue (ie "respect the cave!"), The Cave comes off as nothing less than a complete disaster right from the get-go. Talented actors such as Cole Hauser and Morris Chestnut are left with nothing to do, while director Bruce Hunt attempts to compensate for Michael Steinberg and Tegan West's shockingly incompetent screenplay by throwing in a variety of annoying and ultimately needless visual tricks. The relentlessly dark atmosphere quickly becomes oppressive, and even the film's monsters - presumably the highlight - are poorly rendered and shown only in brief snippets (the gore quotient is virtually non-existent, thanks to a ludicrous PG-13 rating). Adding insult to injury are the film's similarities to Neil Marshall's The Descent, which is a far, far superior effort in every way imaginable.
The Empire of the Wolves (January 6/06)
If you've ever wondered what would happen if you crossed Total Recall with The Bourne Identity and filtered them through the sensibility of The Crimson Rivers, look no further than The Empire of the Wolves for the answer. With its incoherent storyline and severely overlong running time, the film - which actually starts out with some promise - eventually becomes a tedious and unfocused mess. Jean Reno stars as a grizzled ex-cop (ie he says things like, "to fight evil, you gotta taste it") who teams up with an idealistic police officer after three women are sadistically murdered by a serial killer. But that's merely a subplot to a far less interesting story revolving around Anna's (Arly Jover) memory loss and the sinister forces that may or may not be behind it. Director Chris Nahon (Kiss of the Dragon) initially elevates the proceedings with heavily stylized visuals, but the script's convoluted nature - coupled with a severe case of overlength - eventually transforms the film into a surprisingly tedious piece of work. And though there are a few effective moments here and there (most of which involve Reno's brutal interrogation tactics), The Empire of the Wolves isn't nearly as much fun as one imagines it's supposed to be.
USS Poseidon: Phantom Below (January 8/06)
USS Poseidon: Phantom Below is a marginally entertaining but ultimately needless submarine movie that often feels like a loose remake of the far, far superior Crimson Tide. Adrian Paul stars as Frank Habley, a Naval Commander assigned the task of patrolling the treacherous waters off North Korea's coast. During a routine mission, Habley becomes convinced that his sub is being tracked by another, far more advanced vessel - leading him with no choice but to hide his boat using a dangerous maneuver that kills two crew members. A Court Martial follows, and Habley is given one more chance - with the condition that he take on a by-the-book first mate named Steven Barker (Mathew St. Patrick). USS Poseidon: Phantom Below features many of the expected cliches of the genre - there's even a moment in which a crew member yells, "dive, dive, dive!" - and generally comes off as an old-fashioned, by-the-numbers thriller set aboard a submarine. Screenwriter Mark Sanderson peppers the film with simplistic dialogue and melodramatic interludes, with a tearful death sequence ("so...cold...!") the most obvious example of the latter. That the movie's been shot on a miniscule budget couldn't possibly be more obvious, due mostly to some exceedingly shoddy special effects work (the computer imagery in Tron was more convincing). The performances are generally at the level of a made-for-TV production, though Paul and St. Patrick try their best to infuse some life into their one-dimensional characters. But really, this is just a watered-down (no pun intended) variation on Crimson Tide - complete with a tense moment in which Barker relieves Habley of his command - that has little chance of appealing to viewers with even a passing familiarity with the submarine genre.