- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

One can forgive director Danny Boyle his incessant genre-hopping. After all, his creative dips and doodles often reset the clock on their respective genres. See “28 Days Later” and “Trainspotting” as exhibits A and B. So when the curtains part to reveal his latest film, “Sunshine,” you expect the bedraggled science-fiction genre to emerge reborn.

The vision sure is there. “Sunshine” delivers a realistic future in which man can reach far into the galaxy but has little control over what happens next. Dramatically, the picture starts out crystal clear but ends fuzzier than an aging starlet’s close-up.

It’s the year 2057, and the sun is starting to lose its spark. Cillian Murphy of “28 Days Later” stars as Capa, one of eight astronauts aboard Icarus II assigned to explode an atomic bomb in the sun’s general direction to reignite its life-giving flames. The first Icarus tried to accomplish the same feat but apparently got lost along the way.

We join Capa and his fellow astronauts midjourney. So far, so good, for both us and the crew. The early sequences highlight Mr. Boyle’s sober assessment of space travel, a far cry from the whiz-bang excitement found in “Star Wars” and its ilk. The film’s moody score completes the otherworldly atmosphere.

A plot twist hijacks the mission, pitting the astronauts against each other. Soon, they must make decisions that could be fatal not just to them but to everyone back at home. To say more would spoil the surprises, but suffice to say pulse-pounding action isn’t on Mr. Boyle’s agenda.

“Sunshine” basks in the vagaries of outer space, but the film spikes the narrative with enough tension to remind us of the stakes. Mr. Boyle, working once more with writer Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “The Beach”), gives us a thrilling space walk and some fascinating images of the sun in its dying days. Yet he succumbs to a third-act trick that smacks of artistic desperation.

The spacecraft’s heavily Asian crew (including Michelle Yeoh) could portend the East’s ascendancy in the cultural order. “Sunshine” shrewdly lets the audience draw its own conclusions.

Traces of “Alien,” “2001” and even “Blade Runner” pervade “Sunshine,” although “Alien’s” idiosyncratic crew isn’t equaled here. Audiences will be hard-pressed to identify strongly with anyone from Icarus II, even the normally animated Mr. Murphy. His character records a video message for his family back on Earth in the film’s opening moments. It’s a good start, a chance to root the science fiction in human terms. But we never get so close to Capa again.

“Sunshine” is bold but not startling, inventive without getting under our skin. It’s like a re-creation of a Danny Boyle film but without Mr. Boyle’s ability to reinvent the cinematic wheel.

**1/2Two and a half stars

TITLE: “Sunshine”

RATING: R (Adult language, violence and disturbing themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by Alex Garland. Original music by John Murphy and Underworld.

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.foxsearch light.com/sunshine/

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