Pitch Black
Vin Diesel in Pitch Black

USA, 2000.  Rated R.  107 minutes.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Claudia Black, Rhiana Griffith, John Moore, Simon Burke
Writers: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy (screenplay only)
Music: Graeme Revell
Cinematographer: David Eggby
Producer: Tom Engelman
Director: David Twohy

Grade: B+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

I s making a purely fun sci-fi action movie becoming a lost art? It has certainly seemed so lately, with such films as Soldier, Virus, and Deep Rising. Most recent SF action films have either taken themselves too seriously or suffered from broad, clumsy writing. Pitch Black is here to set the SF action genre back on course. In the noble tradition of Tremors and They Live, Pitch Black Pitch Black has no aspirations to be more than what it is--i.e., yet another Alien ripoff with a half-baked premise. It just wants to be a really good Alien ripoff with a half-baked premise.

The recipe starts with decent acting from a cast content to inhabit their cliched characters, intriguing albeit low-budget special effects, superior production design, nail-biting action, sharp dialogue with the requisite one-liners, and a well-paced plot. One more element is needed, however. Even a derivative film, to succeed, must have something to set it from the others--a fresh element to make the film seem less stale than it really is, something that you can point to and say, "That's some cool shit!" That something is Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room).

"Fight evil with evil," the tagline urges. The evil? Radha MitchellComputer-generated creatures that look like a cross between the Alien monsters and bats. They are, of course, not particularly original, but director David Twohy (The Arrival), who makes the most of his small budget, has learned well the lesson of Alien--if you want to scare people's pants off, do not play your hand too soon. Keep the exact nature of the man-munching critters a mystery, and distract the audience with subplots. Like vampires, the alien creatures are unable to survive in the sun, but they inhabit the caves of an abandoned planet, now-deserted world.

On this world, a spaceship carrying a group of would-be colonists headed elsewhere is forced to crash land, in an impressive and suspenseful action sequence. The survivors include baby-faced pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell, from High Art), spiritual Imam (Keith David, from There's Something About Mary), and law enforcement officer Johns (Cole Hauser, from Good Will Hunting and The Hi-Lo Country). The monsters do not immediately make themselves known, lurking underground. With three suns, the crash survivors are safe as long as they stay on the surface, which is always bathed in sunlight... or is it?

The evil that the crash survivors fight back with? Diesel's enigmatic, bald, muscular, throaty-voiced Riddick, a psychopath being transported under maximum security by Johns. In addition to being an expert in hand-to-hand combat, he has a convenient special ability--he can see in the dark. Once the lights go out, Riddick is their only chance to live, and Pitch Black kicks into high gear.

Can Riddick be trusted? Will he lead the survivors past the ravenous ghouls to safety, or will he take off with the repaired shuttle, leaving the others behind? You'll have to swallow your pride and plunk down your hard-earned money to find out.

Review © February 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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