A truly harrowing sequence in the final reel fails to save "Fire in the Sky," an otherwise prosaic approach to the gee-whiz genre of UFO aliens snatching a human specimen for examination. This unappealing pic is likely to attract only a few curiosity seekers.

A truly harrowing sequence in the final reel fails to save “Fire in the Sky,” an otherwise prosaic approach to the gee-whiz genre of UFO aliens snatching a human specimen for examination. This unappealing pic is likely to attract only a few curiosity seekers.

Supposedly “based on a true story,” shaggy-dog film concerns ordinary, uninteresting people who happen to be enmeshed in an extraordinary phenomenon by chance. That was the starting point for Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but that 1977 picture exhibited the good sense to emphasize the fantastic rather than the boring aspects of everyday life (per Alfred Hitchcock’s famous dictum).

D.B. Sweeney portrays the real-life Travis Walton, an Arizona lumberjack upon whose book this is based. Out driving with five co-workers one night, he’s zapped by a bright light from a ship hovering in the sky and left for dead by his pals.

An extremely tedious investigation of Sweeney’s disappearance is conducted by visiting lawman James Garner, with nasty co-worker Craig Sheffer a prime suspect in what Garner views as a homicide.

Film dwells at great length on dull details, with a lie detector test consuming a whole reel and treated as if it were some novelty never before shown on screen.

Five days after being snatched, Sweeney pops up naked in the rain and utterly traumatized. Eventually he flashbacks to the horrors experienced in the aliens’ ship. Therein he awakes in a cocoon, floats weightless clutching an umbilical rope, and is subjected to a grueling physical exam and probing that rivals Laurence Olivier’s dental torture of Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man” for gruesomeness.

Film’s 2 1/2-year-later coda is strictly an anticlimax.

The final-reel aliens in “Fire” are only glimpsed but are scary-looking, flat-faced humanoids whose ruthless behavior seems as repellent as human doctors and scientists must appear to helpless lab animals. If only the preamble had matched this payoff, director Robert Lieberman would have had a viable picture.

Unfortunately, scripter Tracy Torme (son of singer Mel) has no ear for the way people speak, delivering corny dialogue that sounds like a pastiche of ancient B-movie cliches.

Cast, notably Robert Patrick in the film’s largest role as Sweeney’s best friend, is hamstrung by this trite verbiage.

Technical contributions are okay for this modestly budgeted ($ 15 million) effort, though loud music and sound effects are not sufficient to sustain one’s attention during the 90 minutes of preliminaries.

Fire in the Sky

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Joe Wizan/Todd Black production. Produced by Wizan, Black. Executive producer, Wolfgang Glattes. Directed by Robert Lieberman. Screenplay, Tracy Torme, based on Travis Walton's book "The Walton Experience."

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color; Panavision), Bill Pope; editor, Steve Mirkovich; music, Mark Isham; production design, Laurence Bennett; art direction , Mark W. Mansbridge; set decoration, Daniel L. May; costume design, Joe I. Tompkins; sound (Dolby), Henry Garfield; assistant director, J. Michael Haynie; special visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, supervisor, Michael Owens; stunt coordinator, Chuck Waters; additional editor, Stephen E. Rivkin; co-producers, Robert Strauss, Torme, Nilo Rodis-Jamero; casting, Rick Pagano, Sharon Bialy, Debi Manwiller. Reviewed at Loews N.Y. Twin theater, N.Y., March 11, 1993. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 107 min.

With

Travis Walton - D.B. Sweeney
Mike Rogers - Robert Patrick
Allan Dallis - Craig Sheffer
David Whitlock - Peter Berg
Sheriff Watters - James Garner
Greg Hayes - Henry Thomas
Bobby Cogdill - Bradley Gregg
Blake Davis - Noble Willingham
Katie Rogers - Kathleen Wilhoite
Dana Rogers - Georgia Emelin
Dan Walton - Scott MacDonald
Cyrus Gilson - Wayne Grace
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