- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

''Supernova" is about as unsuper as a science-fiction spectacle could get these days and still entertain competitive hopes at the box office.

While not as stupefying and alienating as many others the miserable trio "Event Horizon," "Armageddon" and "Alien Resurrection" spring to mind this low-octane castaway leaves itself without an exploitable prospect.

Given the recent success of "Galaxy Quest," reformulation as a futuristic farce might have been the smartest command decision.

The plot itself anticipates a cosmic makeover that may or may not prove peachy. At the fadeout, we're left to ponder whether the doomsday device smuggled onto an emergency medical rescue ship, the Nightingale, patrolling the outer reaches of the galaxy in a far-off century, will result in curtains or ecstatic transformation for the earthlings who ultimately feel its vibes.

One of the characters must ignite the infernal device, a lavender orb that causes wavy images and woozy moods, in order to foil the villain a superhuman agent determined to inflict total extinction on humankind.

The terrestrial repercussions won't be known for 51 years, we're told. This arbitrary time span should provide sufficient leisure to figure out a sequel if "Supernova" miraculously emerges as a cult classic.

The movie is something in the nature of yet another "Alien Resurrection." It showed signs of distress when it opened last weekend without press screenings. Director Walter Hill bailed out when MGM denied him an opportunity to reshoot scenes.

Mr. Hill uses the pseudonym "Thomas Lee" in the credits instead of "Alan Smithee," a concealment usually favored by directors.

The filmmaker is best known as a specialist in urban thrillers and Westerns, such as "Hard Times," "The Warriors," "The Long Riders," "48 HRS." and "Geronimo." Mr. Hill, however, was one of the producers of the original "Alien."

He remained a co-producer of the sequels, so the resemblances that make "Supernova" appear the third disappointing "Alien" sequel may have been inescapable.

Though not a mining vessel like the Nostromo, the original endangered spaceship visualized so effectively by Ridley Scott, the Nightingale is a self-evident copycat with glaring liabilities.

Most conspicuously, Mr. Hill seems to have no budget for exposition. Both the setting and the crew members fail to make adequate first impressions while being set up for peril.

As the captain, Robert Forster is a premature goner, sacrificed rashly when a "dimension jump" a leap across light-years that brings the ship in the vicinity of a treacherous distress signal leaves him a gnarly mess in a defective slumber pod.

The remaining crew members are coy love matches: Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney are sweethearts from the outset; boyish Wilson Cruz has a platonic thing going with the ship's computer, nicknamed Sweetie; and co-stars James Spader and Angela Bassett must fake tight-lipped hostility as the co-pilot, Nick, and medical officer, Kala, before uniting in both heroism and rapture.

Although Mr. Spader experiments with a raspy voice as well as a somber presence, the movie qualifies as an eccentric showcase for only one cast member: Peter Facinelli as the interloper, Troy, who promptly becomes a snake in the grass upon being rescued in his suspicious shuttle, which contains the dread orb.

Mr. Facinelli has a more amusing vocal trick going: He pretends to have stolen Tom Cruise's voice. Possessed of awesome strength and ruthless determination, Troy has the crew at a disadvantage so one-sided that the filmmakers must resort to ludicrous subterfuges to tilt the playing field back in a pathetically hopeful direction.

TITLE: "Supernova"

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting profanity, nudity and sexual candor; occasional graphic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by "Thomas Lee" (a pseudonym for Walter Hill, who requested anonymity)

RUNNING TIME: About 85 minutes.

One-half of a star out of a maximum of four stars.

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