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Review by Elias Savada
Posted 14 January 2000

Directed by Thomas Lee.

Starring James Spader, 
Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, 
Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, 
Robin Tunney, and Wilson Cruz.

Written by David Campbell Wilson,
 Story by William Malone and Daniel Chuba.

Despite James Bond’s financial rescue of MGM late last year, the studio is starting out the year with a huge dud, a flatulent space bomb. There may not be air in outer space, but you can smell this one a galaxy away. Last year it was At First Sight that was stinking up theaters in mid-January; now it’s Supernova.

Stay away. Open the windows. Hold your noses.

Money can’t buy everything and that includes an at least $60 million budget sci-fi production that borders on the laughable. The studio brass realized this last summer when they wrote off most of the film as a loss on their balance sheets. Mega-talented Francis Ford Coppola was reportedly called in at the time to salvage this junk heap from its already troubled history, but apparently the surgery didn’t work and the aborted result is left on exhibit before the masses.

Original director Geoffrey Wright pulled out of the project well into pre-production and veteran Arthur Hill, one of the key production forces behind the first three Alien movies while also sporting a decent resume as an action drama director (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.), took over at the helm. But it’s the fictional Thomas Lee who is being held responsible in the end. Who? It’s the bastard offspring of the pitiful Alan Smithee, the, until now, accepted pseudonym for many a director (and other above-the-line personnel) used since 1968’s Fade-In, when Jud Taylor ripped his name from that theatrically-made but never released—except to television—effort. The Directors Guild of America, which authorized the use of Smithee, has apparently decided that after 50 credits, it’s time for a change, particularly after being self-referentially featured in the drop-dead bad An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. That stinker effort, actually directed by Arthur Hiller, put the nail in Mr. Smithee’s coffin and now we have Mr. Nom-de-faux Lee to kick around.

[Ominous sign: the film was sharing internal theater signage with the men’s room at the multiplex where I saw it. Except for the fleeting nudity of Robin Tunney (End of Days and The Craft), male members of the audience might opt for relief among the public urinals.]

As for the story, it involves an emergency medical rescue vessel wandering the far stretches of the universe in the 22nd century. Just what the heck a spaceship like this is doing roaming through the heavens isn’t explained, as there are not other spacecraft in sight. The oversized vessel and undersized crew get a kick-start distress call from a rogue moon (say what?) that proves the undoing of most of them. Too bad it couldn’t do in the writers, who seemed to have dreamt this soggy piece up while in hypersleep. Malone co-wrote Universal Soldier II, to give you some idea of the “quality” scriptmanship you’ll get here. (Malone actually penned the original version a decade ago and was to have directed, with design work by H.R. “Alien” Geiger.)

The characters are drawn in marginal cartoon fashion: Captain A.J. Marley (Robert Forster, who saw similar duty 20 years ago in Disney’s The Black Hole); 32-year-old recovering drug-addict and rookie co-pilot Nick Vanzant (Stargate’s James Spader); weathered-in-love-and-duty chief medical officer Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett); geeky computer engineer Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), sexy, often bare-chested medical technician Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips), and  paramedic “I’ll screw almost anyone” Danika Lund (the aforementioned Tunney). Vanessa Marshall is the voice of the ship’s sensual computer “Sweetie”( Sweetie???!?!) obviously equipped with some of those bad Pentium chips, while Eddy Rice, Jr. hobbles around as a gimpy robot attired in World War II fly-boy fatigues. Knox Grantham White is a mysterious scavenger who might not be all he seems to be.

There are literally no exciting moments in this plodding lug of a film. What’s shown in the quick-paced trailer is a ruse to separate an unsuspecting public from their entertainment dollar, less the entertainment portion. What is called an entity from the Ninth Dimension encased in a three-dimensional shell actually looks more like the Northern Lights hovering over a hot summer highway. The most annoying aspect is the neva-shudda-been-used jerky hand-held camera shots reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project.

The entire crew strips when going through a dreaded trans-dimensional jump. Frankly, interstellar voyeurism hasn’t been this tedious since Astronaut’s Wife. Supernova is super boring.

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