LD 50

Animal rights activists are trapped in an underground research facility by an unseen nemesis in "LD 50," a horror/sci-fi/psychological thriller that goes from obvious to garbled to ludicrous. Poor first-film-project choice for Brit stage director Simon De Selva is slick enough, but devoid of the high style or tense atmosphere that might have salvaged fellow first-timer Matthew McGuchan's overloaded, undercooked script.

With:
With: Katherine Towne, Melanie Brown, Tom Hardy, Leo Bill, Philip Winchester, Stephen Lord, Toby Fisher, Ross McCall, Tania Emery.

Animal rights activists are trapped in an underground research facility by an unseen nemesis in “LD 50,” an attempted horror/sci-fi/psychological thriller that goes from obvious to garbled to ludicrous. Poor first-film-project choice for Brit stage director Simon De Selva is slick enough, but devoid of the high style or tense atmosphere that might have salvaged fellow first-timer Matthew McGuchan’s overloaded, undercooked script. Second feature from U.K. company Random Harvest’s genre shingle Four Horsemen Films looks (like predecessor “Octane”) to be a theatrical fizzle that will recoup some — but not enough — coin in home formats.

Where “Octane” was set in a vague, somewhat unconvincing U.S. (no wonder, since it was shot in Luxembourg), “LD 50” at least does cop to being a Brit pic, even as it hedges it bets by adding some pointlessly American characters and actors. Regardless, cast won’t be much of a selling point, since biggest names here are Robert Towne’s daughter Katherine and former Scary Spice Girl Melanie Brown.

Towne and Brown play members of a secret group that stages guerilla actions against corporations that subject animals to product tests or other abuses. Initial set-piece finds the youthful cartel driving in the middle of the night to one such plant where they cut their way through a security fence, get past a sleeping guard, and liberate some critters from their cages. But the intended fast in-and-out goes awry when Gary (Ross McCall) is snared in a bear trap hidden behind an office door. Unable to free him, and with alarm-alerted cops already on the way, the others must leave him behind.

A year later, Gary’s serving a long prison term; general guilt and bad vibes resulting have scattered the group. But nominal hero Matt (Tom Hardy) receives a message that suggests Gary is in worse trouble. To shorten his sentence, he agreed to participate as a human guinea pig in an experimental trial. Sussing out Gary’s whereabouts, a disused vivisection lab offshore on a former Army base, the crew re-assembles — Gary’s erstwhile g.f. Helen (Towne), dweeby Danny (Leo Bill), strong willed Louise (Brown) with her incongruously Beavis-like Yankee squeeze Vaughn (Philip Winchester), and Justin (Toby Fisher). One surprise addition is the ominously named Spook (Stephen Lord), an ex-U.S. Marine whose surly, paranoid air makes him a highly improbable new recruit for these peacenik types.

Once at the base, evidence found of “some mad scientist thing” includes bodies preserved in tanks. There’s no sign of Gary — but in any case, getting the hell out soon becomes the top priority, as group’s number is reduced one by one, beginning with Justin.

Pic suffers from lack of a clear nemesis, with lethal electrical currents the inevitably gone-wacko Spook, and, eventually, two more cast members all proving hazardous for the others. Hopes that tale might turn into an “Altered States”-type hallucinogenic mind’s-eye lab thriller are gradually dashed, as it turns out more of a monster flick — albeit one that can’t quite decide who or what is the monster.

Climactic revelation that the experiment in question has been the evil development of an ultimate weapon (which also explains what happened to Gary) comes off garbled and silly.

Stuck in dreary, subterranean institutional chambers after early segs, pic is crafted with basic competence but too little imaginative flair. While pace is brisk enough to hold attention, it all seems much ado about nothing. Thesps can’t be blamed for failing to rise above, given that dialogue and behaviors sometimes tip toward the ridiculous.

Onscreen title “LD 50” has been billed elsewhere as the more saleable “Lethal Dose,” plus “LD 50 Lethal Dose” and (what else but) “Lethal Dose LD 50.”

LD 50

U.K.

Production: A First Look Intl. and Four Horseman Films production in association with Isle of Man Film Commission and Overseas Filmgroup. Produced by Alistair Maclean-Clark, Basil Stephens. Executive producers, Carlo Dusi, Melvyn Singer, Tim Smith. Directed by Simon De Selva. Screenplay, Matthew McGuchan.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Robin Vidgeon; editor, Kant Pan; music, Michael Price; production designer, Humphrey Jaeger; art director, Catriona McCail; costume designer, Stewart Meacham; sound editor (Dolby Digital), Robert Ireland; visual FX supervisors, Jessica Norman, Gregory Salter; assistant director, Harry Boyd; second unit director, Basil Stephens; casting, Elaine Fallon, Tania Polentarutti. Reviewed at San Francisco Horror Festival, March 21, 2004. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Katherine Towne, Melanie Brown, Tom Hardy, Leo Bill, Philip Winchester, Stephen Lord, Toby Fisher, Ross McCall, Tania Emery.

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