THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Cave begins with a prologue that takes place in Romania thirty years ago, when a group of explorers discover the hidden location of a mysterious underground cave. They go in, never to be seen again. In the current day, the cave is rediscovered by one Dr. Nicoli (Marcel Iures). Whatís he a doctor of? Beats me. Nicoli calls in a team of diving specialists to explore it. The team is lead by the arrogant Jack (Cole Hauser), and other members include his cocky brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian), as well as divers played by Morris Chestnut and Coyote Uglyís Piper Perabo. The only way to access the cave is through a two-and-a-half-mile long underwater channel. Before diving in, Nicoli informs the group that, centuries before, the cave had been sealed up by the Knights Templar. Ah, the Knights TemplarÖthey seem to have become the go-to group for hiding secrets, having also played a similar role in National Treasure and Dan Brownís novel ďThe Da Vinci Code.Ē Apparently the group had nothing better to do than keep mystical secrets for generations. Or maybe itís just lazy screenwriting.

You see, the Knights knew there were winged demon-creatures in that cave and they sought to protect the world from them. Everyone believes this to be a myth until they get inside the cave and discover that itís true. Strange little lizard-like creatures with sharp teeth start popping up. The scientist in the group, Katherine (Lena Headey), analyzes some of them, only to discover that they are infected with a parasitic virus. Since Jack got scratched by one of the buggers, he is infected too. No one knows whether he can be trusted or whether heís going to evolve into something more deadly. After an explosion seals off the passageway they entered by, the group has to find another way out, dodging the winged creatures as they do so.

The Cave utilizes a formula that was perfected (but not invented) by Ridley Scottís 1979 masterpiece Alien. In the formula, a group of humans gets stranded in a remote location where a slimy creature picks them off one by one. There is something fundamentally disquieting about such a scenario, but to make it work you need interesting characters and a certain internal logic. The Cave fails on both counts. The characters are utterly generic, without personality of any sort. Some movies at least assign each character a stock trait (the guy who makes wise cracks, the gung-ho soldier type, the panicky one, etc.). In this case, the humans are totally bland; we donít even remember their names much less anything else about them. As I was keeping track of them in my mind, I made up identities for them: That Guy, That Other Guy, The Blonde Chick, and so on. It doesnít help that the actors turn in uniformly dull performances.

The logic is no better. Weíre never clued in as to what the creatures are or what effect their virus has had. The Knights Templar obviously knew something about them (after all, they sealed the varmints up for so many years). It feels like there should be a back-story here, but there isnít. Itís clear that Jack is infected with the virus, and itís also clear that he got it from the creatures; the implications of all this are decidedly unclear, however. Itís hard to feel bad for Jack when his dilemma is so undefined. The groupís escape plan is also hazy. They try to find a way out of the cave, but no matter which direction they choose, one of them ends up getting eaten by the creatures. So what exactly is the plan - to just keep running? Most films of this type find the heroes searching for the monsterís weakness, then exploiting it once itís found. The characters in The Cave never find the weakness that would allow them to do battle with their enemy. If they canít even muster up a good fight, then theyíre destined to be nothing more than lunch meat. So why should we care about them?

The creatures themselves are moderately amusing. Granted, they look almost exactly like the slimy creatures found in virtually all films of this type, but at least theyíre more fun to watch than the people. Regrettably, they donít really come into play for an hour. Up to that point, the action scenes consist mainly of shaky camerawork and split-second editing designed to suggest an attack. Thereís nothing intrinsically wrong with building up to the revelation of the creature (it worked pretty well in Jaws) but the early scenes could have been staged more carefully to build suspense. As a result, the first hour of The Cave is surprisingly boring. Once the winged creatures emerge and start eating people, the pace mercifully picks up a little bit. I will give partial credit to the diving scenes, which have an eerily claustrophobic feel. The characters have to squeeze through some tight passages, sometimes with no oxygen tanks. If only the rest of the picture were so effective.

The Cave reminded me a lot of last yearís Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Both films are from Sonyís Screen Gems division. Both debuted the exact same late-August weekend. Come to think of it, both star Morris Chestnut, who obviously needs a new agent. Finally, they both are destined to become staples of cable TV. Which brings me to my advice: if this is at all your cup of tea, just watch the last half-hour of The Cave when it hits HBO or Cinemax. Thatíll be all you need to see, and you wonít have to waste eight bucks on it.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Cave is rated PG-13 for intense creature violence. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.

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