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(2005) (Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Horror: Hired to explore an underwater cave system, a team of aquatic spelunkers encounters a series of monsters while trapped a mile below the surface.
Thirty years after a landslide sealed explorers in a massive cave system, Dr. Nicolai (MARCEL IURES) and his assistant Kathryn Jennings (LENA HEADEY) have found and reopened the cave. Yet, the fact that its entrance is filled with water means they'll need aquatic spelunkers to guide them through the filled chambers and passageways.

Accordingly, they call Jack McAllister (COLE HAUSER) and his team for the job. Along with Jack's brother Tyler (EDDIE CIBRIAN), the crew includes second in command Top Buchanan (MORRIS CHESTNUT), hotheaded Briggs (RICK RAVANELLO), expert climber Charlie (PIPER PERABO) and lead man Strode (KIERAN DARCY-SMITH). They arrive on the scene in Romania and immediately enter the cave and its flooded areas, with Strode leading the way.

When he encounters an odd creature a mile or so in and the rest of the crew then loses his video transmission, they set out to find him with documentary filmmaker Alex Kim (DANIEL DAE KIM) in tow. As they get deeper into the cave system, they soon realize -- from the human bones -- that they're not the first ones there, and that they're not alone, as it seems some previously undiscovered animal species is also down there.

Things go bad when the team realizes the creatures are carnivorous and hunting them, and then get even worse when an underground landslide closes off the exit. Three miles in, one mile down and with no one expecting them for twelve days, Jack and his team try to find another way out, all while trying to avoid the large, winged creatures that want to make a meal of all of them.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
I've always been a fan of caves and caverns, probably a result of being exposed to -- or should that be embedded in -- Luray Caverns, the biggest and most famous subterranean attraction in the eastern U.S. Whether it's the unusual geological formations, the perpetual coolness or the thought of being so far underground (with the related notion of being buried alive, comparisons to Hell or what have you), descending into caves creates an intriguing combination of excitement and primordial fear.

The movie "The Cave" is supposed to evoke the same sort of response from viewers, but this suspense/horror wannabe is more likely to elicit boredom, annoyance or outright disdain from most who are unfortunate enough to wander into its vast emptiness. And like so many stalactites dangling down from a cave's ceiling, this offering has so many problems hanging above it that it has nary a chance to succeed.

The most prominent is that it's just a rip-off of far superior films such as "Aliens" and "Predator" as well as the lesser entries of the genre like "Pitch Black." There isn't an original bone in this film's body and the comparison to its predecessors and their various elements certainly isn't favorable.

Armed with the lackluster script scribbled by Michael Steinberg ("Sleep with Me") and Tegan West (making his debut), director Bruce Hunt (making his feature debut) obviously can't do much to shine any sort of light on the material. Yet, that doesn't prevent him from trying. The film certainly isn't ever static, but none of the edits, rapidly moving camera shots and general, overall hyper approach do anything to add to the proceedings (at least in a positive way).

In fact, they only compound the feeling that the film not only was shot in a dark cave (or a movie set facsimile thereof), but was also written and edited there. The result is such that the film's various scenes easily could be viewed out of order with no apparent ill effect on continuity since it's already next to impossible to tell what's going on or to whom anything's occurring.

Since the filmmakers were already ripping off those earlier pictures (and complementing them with some truly awful dialogue), you'd at least think they would have picked up a few pointers about how to make a good film, all of which starts with avoiding over-directing them. I'm sure the argument here is that they were trying to capture the claustrophobic confusion of being terrorized in the expansive cave system and its various underwater areas. Whatever the case, it simply doesn't work.

The same holds true for caring about any of the characters, their predicament and such. Not surprisingly, they're about as flat as the script. For a movie like this to work, the roles need to be engaging to get viewers to respond. Here, that never occurs, as we're never allowed to know the characters beyond some cursory, one-note traits.

As in most any horror film, those present -- including Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, Eddie Cibrian, Lena Headey and Piper Perabo -- are present simply as potential fodder for the alien eating machine. Speaking of which, the creations here -- whenever so briefly viewed in the few moments the camera stays still -- are nothing to write home or get worked up about. An amalgamation of such creatures from various other films, they never look real and certainly aren't believable in concept or execution.

Considering the lack of new menu items deep down below, you'd think they'd wolf down the tasty human appetizers. In true movie fashion, however, they prefer to exhibit some semblance of table manners by eating their meals one by one and thus prolonging the victims' as well as our agony.

Films such as "The Poseidon Adventure" prove that stories of people trapped in immense yet tight quarters of alternating wet and dry varieties can be effectively taut, engaging and highly entertaining. Movies like "The Cave" prove that there will always be the antithesis to that.

Despite most of the proceedings taking place in dimly lit environs and with a confusing whirlwind of camera movement and editing, it's all too clear that this film is about as exciting as a clammy cave rock submerged in some subterranean muck. The film rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed August 24, 2005 / Posted August 26, 2005

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