A CIA man takes a special-ops team on a mysterious mission in Afghanistan just after 9/11 in "The Objective," from Daniel Myrick.

A CIA man takes a special-ops team on a mysterious mission in Afghanistan just after 9/11 in “The Objective,” from Daniel Myrick (“The Blair Witch Project”). Lazily combining “Blair Witch” conceits with the U.S. war on terror, the pic’s objective, given its long list of exec producers, cynically seems to be to make money. With a low-budget look, cliched dialogue, a stale plot and so-so acting, this supernatural thriller is unlikely to achieve the phenomenal success of its fabled predecessor. Targeted marketing might bring genre fans out for a look, but word of mouth is likely to be poor.

Most of the story is narrated in v.o. by CIA agent Keynes (Jonas Ball), part of a Langley unit nervous about a radioactive heat signal picked up by a reconnaissance satellite above the Afghan mountains. Afraid Al Qaeda may have nuclear weapons, Keynes’ superiors dispatch him on a secret mission to determine the source.

Ben is assigned a buff-looking special-forces team that believes his not entirely plausible cover story about finding a legendary leader named Muhammad. With guide Abdul (Zindune Chems Eddine), they set out for what the superstitious locals call “the sacred mountains.” Soon, however, their high-tech equipment and transport are disabled by a surprise attack, and they find themselves facing an enemy that’s not even human.

Sound familiar? A small team of arrogant rationalists on a mission, trapped in unwelcoming territory, unable to turn back, helpless in the face of a supernatural phenomenon … but here, the foreboding fails to mount convincingly. Thankfully, there’s no shaky-cam, but the cheesy special effects don’t inspire the same dread as “Blair Witch’s” simple piles of rocks and twigs.

Indeed, the beauty of the Moroccan desert locations (standing in for Afghanistan) inspire more awe than anything created by the visual-effects team. Stephanie Martin’s serviceable lensing captures the surroundings’ harsh majesty, but doesn’t convey “Blair Witch”-like claustrophobia or apprehension.

Best tech contribution is the otherworldly, ethnic-tinged score by Kays Al-Atrakchi.

The lame script is full of military lingo and banal platitudes, barely distinguishing one member of the special-ops team from another. Cultists will want to know that one member of the special-ops team, Trinoski, is played by Michael Williams from the original “Blair Witch” cast.

Metaphoric value of the story’s Afghan backdrop is barely exploited. The country’s historic resistance to would-be conquerors and the search for Muhammad might have provided some much-needed subtext.

Press notes handed out at the screening caught imply the pic’s original cut was nearly 15 minutes longer and the ending recently changed. Tribeca catalog claims the foreign dialogue is Moroccan Berber rather than an Afghan language.

The Objective

Production

A Darclight Films presentation of a JAZ Films, Gearhead Pictures production. (International sales: Arclight Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Jeremy Wall, Zev Guber. Executive producers, Gary Hamilton, Ian Gibbons, Victor Syrmis, Claus Clausen, Glen Stewart, Steffan Aumuller, Dennis Riff. Co-producers, Andrea Balen, Karim Debagh, Richard Halpern. Directed by Daniel Myrick. Screenplay, Myrick, Mark Patton, Wes Clark Jr.

Crew

Camera (color), Stephanie Martin; editors, Michael Duthie, Robert Florid, Myrick; music, Kays Al-Atrakchi; production designer, Frank Bollinger; costume designer, Glen Gregory Kragh; visual effects supervisor, Chris Woods; sound (Dolby Digital); sound designer, Walter New; casting, John Jackson. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Encounters), April 25, 2008. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Jonas Ball, Matt Anderson, Jon Huertas, Michael C. Williams, Sam Hunter, Jeff Prewett, Zindune Chems Eddine. (English, Berber dialogue)

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