By Elias Savada | January 29, 2005

As January lumbers to a wintry close—here in the Mid-Atlantic and further north to Canada at least—filmgoers hoping to find a hot new film at their local multiplex are better off warming up with any of the recently announced Academy Award nominees. All of these well deserving features are expanding their neighborhood runs; I highly suggest opting out of both new wide-release flicks. These are the horrific and horrible: “Alone in the Dark” and “Hide and Seek,” with the latter, starring Robert De Niro, the frontrunner for box office honors. “Alone,” the much slighter effort, will bear the brunt of my anger for the rest of this review. I’ll deal with Mr. De Niro and his misguided effort elsewhere.

The unintentional laughter started early at the single screening distributor Lions Gate Films offered to members of the press here in Washington, DC. The streaming, agonizingly long preamble (“In a galaxy far away no one should have to sit through this film”), with simultaneous narration, quickly elicited audience feedback. This force-fed preface felt like a big fat users manual, no doubt because this fiasco is based on a Sega/Atari video game. There’s gibberish about an ancient Abkani culture that seems in the verge of a dark, demonic comeback. What follows is a cheesy, 96-minute B-movie. German director Uwe Boll, who did similar damage two years ago with Sega’s “House of the Dead” and his other games-2-film vehicles soon to follow (Ugh!), has been compared to Ed Wood, one of the world’s most remarkably bad filmmakers. Any such comparison, favorable or not, should be enough warning for anyone who wants to waste their time with this super-silly drivel. There will be no joy in joystick after videogamers see their game so shamelessly Bollderized.

Christian Slater is the star of this tedious, derivative exercise, stolen from a dozen or so horror/action films, including the 1931 “Dracula,” “The Tingler,” “Alien,” “Tremors,” “The Matrix,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” As Edward Carnby, a paranormal investigator on the outs with a high tech government agency called Bureau 713 (a specialized branch dedicated to the surveillance, detection and, defense against paranormal forces), Slater easily suffers under the hands of a director who hasn’t a clue how to get his cast to perform. Carnby, in a back story that took place in a orphanage 22 years earlier, escaped a ghastly medical experience that attached a snake-like critter along the spinal column of 20 children. Seeking shelter in a high-voltage shed apparently short-circuited the little beastie, yet somehow spared the host.

As a public service, I disclaim this paranormal, paramilitary department is not connected to the Navy Information Bureau 713 in Milwaukee. Do I smell an infringement lawsuit? No, it’s just “Alone in the Dark” stinking up the multiplex. My guess on the over-budgeted department’s origins? One of the three credited screenwriters (Elan Mastai, Michael Roesch, and Peter Scheerer), a trio whose inspiration was found in a bowl of x-files-enhanced alphabet soup, happened to write down the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau phone number (area code 713) and got it jumbled up. They screwed up the rest of the script as well.

The main story involves the para-normal effect a series of recently collected gold artifacts has on the other 19, now adult, orphans, causing them to abandon their normal lives in favor of becoming super-human zombies. There are also dark, mean xenomorphs that play havoc with electric lights and attack a local museum mounting an Abkani exhibit under anthropologist Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid, hiding behind some fashionless eyeglasses), a.k.a. Carnby’s main squeeze. Her boss, Professor Lionel Hudgens (Matthew Walker), seems to be walking both the light and dark side of the battlefield in a blood-transfused character compiled from Benedict Arnold and Bram Stoker’s Renfield. Stephen Dorff is the other major presence in the film, as the stubbornly macho commander of the bureau. It’s also a thankless role, unless his remuneration was big enough to cover a few car and mortgage payments.

The climactic Armageddon between good and evil lands the entire cast at an abandoned gold mine on the outskirts of Vancouver (Oh, Canada!), conveniently located above the Gate to Hell. As they get ready to unlock the doomsday entrance, Aline suggests “some doors are meant to stay shut.” She’s right, those theaters playing this mess. TILT!

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