- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

''Pitch Black" is pitched with scant amenities at the cloddish segment of the science-fiction audience.

For all I know, it will score a bull's-eye with that fickle crowd. Harry Knowles, king of the lowbrow Web site reviewers, has given it his invaluable thumbs-up, so the omens are peachy.

"Pitch Black" is unsightly from the outset. It vibrates the imagery like a berserk blender to simulate a precipitous crash landing on a castaway desert planet.

The survivors a pretty hapless cross-section dominated by hard-boiled pilot Radha Mitchell, sinister lawman Cole Hauser and glowering, muscleman convict Vin Diesel discover the remains of a water-generating plant and an atmosphere tinted sepia. That's daytime and presumably the norm when three suns beat on your Godforsaken planet.

The imagery goes literally pitch black with the approach of a menacing eclipse, which blots out every last sun and stirs ravenous swarms of monster bats from subterranean caves and other nests.

Though cleverly obscured by the murk during much of the film, these flying fiends eventually get close enough to the camera to disclose big ugly choppers in the tradition of the "Alien" monsters.

If the survivors can keep their heads down and their wits about them, a slight chance exists of reaching an idle shuttle and blasting off to fairer, safer star systems. "Deep Blue Sea" got to the marketplace with a more lavish and diverting game of prune the survivors, but "Pitch Black" might keep a few primitives guessing about its priority list.

The selection process suffers from the impression that everyone ought to be dead, several times over, if director David Twohy were playing his scares on the level.

Characters you've written off are likely to turn up inexplicably in the next scene. Arbitrarily spared the jaws of death, they are supplanted by others who haven't been adequately set up for sacrifice. One doubts if Mr. Twohy is ready to play movie God.

The makeshift consistency may be more appealing to some viewers than a sophisticated system of illusion. "Pitch Black" certainly wouldn't discourage anyone who planned to get his own amateur science-fiction thriller in the can this year.

By comparison, "Supernova" was a deluxe dud, implying access to big wasted bucks. The spit-and-bailing-wire dud might appear to possess more integrity. "Pitch Black" is strictly from hunger, but it wears its shabbiness like a badge of honor.

1/2 STAR

TITLE: "Pitch Black"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence, involving monsters in a science-fiction setting; allusions to drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by David Twohy

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes


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