Review: Supernova (2000)

Horror Movie Mini-Review by Zeus | 2014-04-27

Supernova (2000), James Spader pictured.

Supernova was originally pitched as "Hellraiser in Space." After seeing the end result, I have to wonder if they meant to say Leprechaun. The film opens with a flyby shot of a rescue ship, dipping inside to introduce the crew. James Spader plays Nick Vanzant, a pilot with a shady past. He's given the icy welcome by Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett, Strange Days). Bassett delivers every line as if she's too tired to argue anymore and just wants you to leave. More friendly (to say the least) is Danica Lund (Robin Tunney, the bald girl from Empire Records), who spends the entire movie having sex or walking around topless. She's a nice enough actress, but she's got a face that makes you say, "No, you can keep your clothes on." She couldn't have been more misscast if she had played Dr. Evers, the strong black woman. (Which, incidentally, she was. More on that later.) Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) plays Danica's boyfriend. Finally we have Benjamin Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), who shares a creepy, growing infatuation with Sweetie, the ship's (female voiced) computer.

After receiving a distress call, the rescue crew makes a hyperspace jump, the film's one great special effect. (Their ship shoots out a beam of light, sort of like creating train tracks through space.) A teleporter accident leaves the captain, who I neglected to mention, fused to the sleep pod by biological tendrils. But wait! The ship is also about to crash into a dying sun. By combining a horrifying medical problem with a camera-shaking action sequence, they betray a lack of confidence in either scene. It's as if Ridley Scott kept cutting away from the chest bursting scene of Alien to show some guy down in the engine room going, "Oh man, we gotta fix these turbo lifts!" To make matters worse, everything is bathed in strobe light, the lowest form of atmosphere. Not the intermittant flicker of failing electrical systems, but the cheap, steady strobe of a middleschool Halloween carnival.

The crew rescues a swaggering scumbag who acts like he can't decide whether he wants to steal your car or your girlfriend. Larson (Peter Facinelli, Twilight) radiates an aura of mutinous debauchery that has even the sex-obsessed Danica blushing. It's no surprise when Yerzy discovers Larson has smuggled aboard an alien artifact containing 9th Dimensional Matter (seriously). It's a trojan horse, designed to set back spacefaring cultures millions of years. As Yerzey becomes more obsessed with Troy's artifiact, Troy puts the moves on Danica. But the movie screws up even a simple love triangle: Yerzey's too obsessed to care. The artifact, which looks like a Blackberry Life-Saver, has a strange effect on people. Dr. Kaela Evers ominously tells the mutating Larson, "You're not just getting stronger, you're getting younger." Oh no! How about better looking? More confident? Say it ain't so, Doc! Say it ain't so!

Larson has big plans for the artifact, and bad things happen to those who doesn't share his vision. After he seemingly gets rid of Nick, he corners Benjamin behind a glass door. The programmer frantically tries to convince Sweetie, the lovesick computer, to come to terms with killing a human, if it means saving him in the process. Sadly, Larson puts an end to all that clever science fiction business before Benjamin can issue the final command. I can't help but imagine if Sweetie had killed Larson, she might have decided it's probably not a good idea to bring home crew members after they're exposed to 9th Dimensional Radiation, and since Benjamin taught her how to justify killing for the greater good... Yes, Evil AI has been done to death, but anything would be better than Rampaging Vampire Twilight Dad.

After writing my Twixt review, I searched for more horror films by Francis Ford Coppola. That's how I discovered Supernova, a movie passed between more directors than Milla Jovovich. Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper, the Australian drama that introduced the world to Skinhead Russell Crowe) was replaced by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48. Hrs.), who removed himself, and his name, from the picture. Enter Jack Sholder (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge) for studio reshoots. And in a last ditch effort to salvage something out of this wreck, Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather director was responsible for slapping together one of the film's most bewildering scenes. That zero gravity love scene, between James Spader and Angela Bassett? The woman is actually Robin Tunney, whose skin was digitally blackened to pass for Dr. Kaela Evers. So keep that in mind next time you decide not to watch this movie. Supernova's weird obsession with sex is more awkard and exhausting than an episode of Lexx. The action scenes are all fog machines, rapid cuts and flickering lights. There's no sense of internal logic: Sweetie can analyze Nick's vital signs to tell if he's lying during a game of cards, but can't be bothered to let everyone know that there's a murderous alien mutatant psychopath onboard. The only redeeming factor is the ending. Nick is the only likable character onboard a rescue ship of fools, and when he disappears, you start looking for the self destruct button. Luckily, he returns in a fun and gloriously dumb finale. Supernova fails at being suspenseful, it fails at being sexy, and only when it embraces being stupid does it find any success.

Review: 2/5.

Want more? Check out The Pink Smoke's excellent feature on Supernova's troubled production.

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