THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In 2003, a German director named Uwe Boll made a movie called House of the Dead, which was based on a video game. The film arrived in theaters with no advance hype and no critics’ screenings. On Rotten Tomatoes – the influential online review database - House of the Dead received an approval rating of 4%, which means that only two out of the 46 critics who reviewed it did so favorably. The picture came and went so fast that I never had time to see it, but even the employees at my favorite multiplex told me that it was bad. Really bad. Boll and his team return with Alone in the Dark, yet another video game adaptation. This one I have seen. It’s almost unspeakably awful.

There are some movies that are just plain incoherent. This is one of them. I am certain that I could never describe the plot in my own words; there would just be a lot of rambling. Therefore, I turn to the press notes for help. Christian Slater plays Edward Carnby, a paranormal investigator whose biggest mystery lies in his own back yard. According to the notes: “Nineteen people have disappeared, and they have only one thing in common – each one grew up in the same orphanage as Edward. Looking for answers, Edward learns that an ancient artifact of considerable power has been discovered in a long-lost shipwreck.” For help, he turns to Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid), who is “a brilliant anthropologist.” This is, I believe, the first time the words “brilliant” and “Tara Reid” have ever been used in the same sentence. And how do we know she’s so brilliant? Why, she wears glasses and has her hair pulled back, of course!

Interestingly, the press notes stop there. They make no mention of Aline’s boss, Professor Hudgens (Mathew Walker), who seems to know something about the missing people. Nor do they mention Commander Richards (Stephen Dorff), a leader in the covert government agency that Carnby once belonged to. Most surprisingly, there’s no mention whatsoever of the slimy alien creatures that are let loose to devour any humans standing in their path.

Looking back on what I have just written, it is obvious that the press notes were of no use. Whoever wrote them didn’t understand this movie any better than I did. Let’s just say that Alone in the Dark is an unholy mash-up of Alien (slime-dripping creatures), Dawn of the Dead (nineteen people running around in a deadly trance), and Pitch Black (creatures who thrive in darkness). It just isn’t nearly as good as any of them.

The plot is bad, but so is everything else. For starters, take the acting… or should I say non-acting. This is one of those pictures where everyone in the cast looks either embarrassed or bored. Christian Slater was once such a promising actor but he goes through his role on auto-pilot. Stephen Dorff yells a lot and tries to look intense, but seems way too young to be a government agent. Then there’s poor Tara Reid. I have nothing against her. Really. She has some talent for comedy, as we’ve seen in American Pie and Josie and the Pussycats. This time, though, she doesn’t even try to give a performance. Even when surrounded by vicious flesh-eating creatures, Reid has the bored expression of someone attending a tax law seminar. It’s just sad to watch. All of the actors have appeared in awful movies. Slater was in Kuffs and Very Bad Things. Reid starred in My Boss’s Daughter and Van Wilder. Dorff made fear dot com, Space Truckers and S.F.W.. Those films look like brilliant career moves in comparison to Alone in the Dark.

The absolute worst thing, however, is that no one seemed to care about quality. The film looks like it was made for $1.05 with its murky cinematography, sloppy special effects, and cheap sets. When the characters run through underground tunnels, it looks like they’re running through giant papier mache tubes.

Have I mentioned how unintentionally funny the whole thing is? There are some real howlers here, starting with Reid’s hilarious mispronunciation of “Newfoundland.” (My colleague Rob Blackwelder correctly points out that she calls it “New Found Land”). How did no one notice that? Later on, the gang finds a series of underground caves where the slimy creatures are nesting. Viewing the entry tunnel, Carnby says, “We need to go in there.” Inside, they find a hole in the ground, leading to a dark cavern. Commander Richards says, “We need to go down there.” As they venture onward, Carnby eventually remarks, “I don’t think we’re supposed to be down here.” How’s that for changing your mind?

Wait – there’s more! After making their way deep into the bowels of the underground caves, Carnby discovers a very professionally constructed cinder block wall. “Something tells me we weren’t the first ones down here,” he states with no irony whatsoever. I also found it quite amusing that a group of armor-clad soldiers accompany our heroes into the creature-infested cave system while Reid’s character wears low-rise jeans, tank top, and jacket.

I see from the previews before the movie that Uwe Boll is already at it again. He has directed an upcoming adaptation of the video game “Bloodrayne” which will star Terminator 3 hottie Kristanna Loken, Ben Kingsley, and Meat Loaf. If it’s going to be anything like Alone in the Dark, I may just stay home and play a video game.

(1/2 out of four)

Alone in the Dark is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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