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Alone in the Dark

Xeno-phobia

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Any film that opens with paragraphs of explanatory text is already off to a bad start. Alone in the Dark scrolls plenty of hoo-hah about an ancient advanced people, the Abkani; a gate to an evil other world populated by bad creatures; a super-secret government agency, Bureau 713; a scientist medically experimenting on orphans; and blah blah blah ...

 

Not to worry, all this back history gets repeated throughout the film and even ends up making some sense -- except for the part about where exactly the evil things live. Whatever. They're here now, and we gotta kick their ass.

 

On the job is paranormal investigator Edward Carnby (Christian Slater) who we meet as he's darkly explaining reality to some freaked-out kid: "Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it can't kill you." Later a cabbie asks Carnby what he does. "You don't want to know." I'm a sucker for this kind of lifeless dialogue delivered in earnest, especially when it's immediately followed by an unexplained car chase (through a vegetable market, natch) and a kick-boxing fight scene that ends on a meat hook.

 

When the first five minutes are this bad, the rest of the film can only get deliciously worse. Its antecedents are promising: Alone in the Dark is based on the Atari video game of the same name, and is directed by Uwe Boll, who helmed 2003's Sega-based action-turd House of the Dead. Boll, who apparently never encountered a plate-glass window he couldn't hurl a character through, dips into a predictable bag of flash-and-crash filmmaking techniques to propel the cumbersome plot.

 

A demented scientist opens a box that releases a bad force and causes 19 people to start sleepwalking toward an old mine. Carnby finds a useful Abkani widget and hooks up with cutie-with-a-clipboard Alene (Tara Reid), an expert Abkani-ist in low-rise jeans. Meanwhile, shadowy giant lizards called "xenos" are on the attack, while Bureau 713, a special SWAT team for eradicating the paranormal, unloads thousands of glowing bullets and issues dire warnings like "The electromagnetics are off the scale!"

 

Wheee! Or not. The problem with films based on video games is that all the fun -- wandering through dark passages, shooting at freaky creatures, finding weird keys to unlock doors -- is out of your hands. Watching lame actors like Slater and Stephen Dorff (as a Bureau 713 para-cop) rush humorlessly from explosion to explosion grows tiresome. Instead, I amused myself studying Tara Reid. I'm not sure I've ever seen a more awkward and perplexed-looking actress -- and who can blame her, trapped in a 3-D video game running from invisible lizards straight to next year's Razzie awards.

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