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Pitch Black

Basically plotless, "Pitch Black," the new Aussie-lensed sci-fi thriller, is a bargain-basement "Aliens." Mildly scary but not particularly engaging on any other level, David Twohy's derivative tale concerns a pilot who crash-lands her spacecraft on a distant, hot planet inhabited by mysterious creatures.

Cast:
Fry - Radha Mitchell Riddick - Vin Diesel Johns - Cole Hauser Imam - Keith David Paris - Lewis Fitz-Gerald Shazza - Claudia Black Jack - Rhiana Griffith Zeke - John Moore Owens - Simon Burke

Basically plotless, “Pitch Black,” the new Aussie-lensed sci-fi thriller, is a bargain-basement “Aliens.” Mildly scary but not particularly engaging on any other level, David Twohy’s derivative tale concerns a pilot (played by the beautiful Radha Mitchell in a Sigourney Weaver-like role) who crash-lands her spacecraft on a distant, hot planet inhabited by mysterious creatures. No-name cast, mostly unlikable characters and lukewarm visual and sound effects suggest a quick theatrical playoff en route to a slightly better life on video.

Twohy, who helmed “The Arrival” and “Disaster in Time,” spins a tale that recalls B-grade ’50s sci-fi, rather than state-of-the-art genre items, in its one-dimensional characterizations and mostly indifferent f/x.

The only element that delivers in this disappointing feature is Graeme Revell’s striking score, which creates a menacing mood much more effectively than the plot itself.

Adventure’s set in an unspecified, not-too-distant future. Most of the spaceship’s crew is killed in the crash-landing; only pilot Fry (Mitchell), lawman Johns (Cole Hauser) and prisoner Riddick (Vin Diesel) emerge unharmed. Latter is a convicted murderer whose presence threatens the future of the survivors.

What’s notable about the seemingly arid planet where the spacecraft is stranded is its brutal daytime heat. Headed by Fry, the group can hope for survival only at night, except that strange, hunting creatures emerge after dark. As conceived and fabricated by Patrick Tatopoulos and John Cox, these monsters look like a cross between big birds and dinosaurs.

Yarn rehashes cliches of numerous similar adventures in which a small bunch of disparate survivors is forced to unify despite internal conflicts. Sci-fi premises are soon abandoned, and pic assumes the shape of a routine action-adventure, with each of the three central characters vying for dominance.

With the exception of a few twists (one concerning a character’s true gender) and a surprising subplot that relates to Johns’ identity, episodic plot is redundant and not particularly involving.

Brothers Jim and Ken Wheat, who have scripted a number of cheesy sequels for the big and small screen (“The Fly II,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” and “The Birds II: Land’s End”), are unable to sustain tension. Worse, a number of the characters are simply not interesting enough to generate viewer sympathy or concern over their survival.

Tech credits for what seems to be a small-budget sci-fi are average, with production design by reliable pro Graham “Grace” Walker a notch or two above the rest. Ferocious attacks by the planet’s monstrous creatures manage only partially to alleviate the tedium that defines the movie.

Pitch Black

Production: A USA Films release of a Gramercy Pictures presentation of an Interscope Communication production. Produced by Tom Engelman. Executive producers, Ted Field, Scott Kroopf, Anthony Winley. Directed by David Twohy. Screenplay, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, Twohy, based on a story by Jim and Ken Wheat.

Crew: Camera (Atlab QLD, color), David Eggby; editor, Rick Shaine; music, Graeme Revell; production designer, Graham "Grace" Walker; art director, Ian Gracie; set decorator, Michael Rumpf; costume designer, Anna Borghesi; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Paul "Salty" Brincat; stunt coordinator, Chris Anderson; visual effects supervisor, Peter Chiang; creatures designed and supervised by Patrick Tatopoulos; creatures fabrication, John Cox; assistant directors, Jamie Crooks; casting (Australian), Mullinars Consultants, Ann Robinson. Reviewed at USA Films screening room, Beverly Hills, Jan. 8, 2000. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 108 MIN.

With: Fry - Radha Mitchell Riddick - Vin Diesel Johns - Cole Hauser Imam - Keith David Paris - Lewis Fitz-Gerald Shazza - Claudia Black Jack - Rhiana Griffith Zeke - John Moore Owens - Simon Burke

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