“Eye See You” has been gathering dust on the shelf for a couple of years, and is being released now almost stealthily, without press screenings (but with substantial television publicity) in only a couple of American cities (Dallas and Detroit–it already had a disastrous European run last year) before migrating to video (undoubtedly with a box that will emphasize its “theatrical” bona fides–though not, one suspects, any positive blurbs on the cover). Given the fact that it’s a sluggish, muddled, murky thriller about one of those supposedly super-intelligent serial killers of whom today’s screenwriters have an endless supply, the reluctance of the original distributor, Universal, to release it in this country is understandable–especially since it was as recently as 2000 that the studio gave us the similarly dreadful “The Watcher” (and took a financial bath on it). That’s undoubtedly why “Eye” is seeing the light of day (or dark of the auditorium) under different auspices, an outfit called DEJ Productions that’s an arm of Blockbuster Video (see above for the reason). It’s a thoroughly awful movie–dumb, narratively chaotic, visually sloppy–but it’s interesting from an historical perspective, because it demonstrates how low Sylvester Stallone’s star has plummeted. The “Rocky” muscleman, once so formidable at the boxoffice, has, like his action colleague Arnold Schwarzenegger, fallen on really bad days. With “Get Carter,” “Driven” and now this clunker, he may have struck out for good. As Kris Kristofferson, playing a doctor advising Sly’s character, informs him sagely at one point, “The s–t you’ve swallowed don’t digest.” It’s a line that understandably doesn’t roll trippingly off the actor’s tongue, but it carries a resonance oddly appropriate to Stallone’s recent career.

Otherwise the picture is simply a disaster, a weird amalgam of “The Thing” and a geriatric “Scream.” Ron Brinkerhoff’s script, based on a book called “Jitter Joint” by Howard Swindle (an unfortunate title, and an equally unfortunate name for a writer–who just happens to have been a Dallas Morning News staffer), features plenty of idiotic convolutions, but in essence it’s utterly conventional. Stallone plays Jack Malloy, an FBI agent who sinks into alcoholism after his cop ex-partner and fiance are murdered by a sneering, shadowy fellow who offs policeman in especially gruesome ways (after literally drilling out their eyes) because–as he’s nice enough to inform us early on–he’s angry with Our Hero over a previous encounter. Sent to an isolated clinic in wintry Wyoming to dry out, Malloy and his fellow patients find themselves haunted by their own demons and hunted by a killer in their midst. The only question is which of the small group of residents is offing the others (it’s obvious from the start that whoever it is, it’s the same person who’s been dogging Malloy for years). Directed by Jim Gillespie, who previously helmed “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” the picture is like a teen slasher flick, except that the victims and suspects here are much longer in the tooth and the stalking and red herrings seem even more absurd as a result. There’s Stallone, of course, looking exhausted and out-of-breath most of the time. But Kristofferson is also on hand, even more bedraggled than Sly, as the clinic’s grizzled proprietor, along with old-timers Tom Berenger (as the caretaker), Charles Dutton (as Malloy’s supportive boss), Robert Patrick (as the obligatory patient who’s an arrogant coward) and Robert Prosky (as a disgraced Mountie). All of them give terrible performances: Kristofferson just slouches about in his usual somnolent manner, but Berenger overdoes things as a doofus hayseed, as do Dutton as the avuncular, gregarious buddy and Patrick as the loudmouthed fraud. They all appear to be wincing with the realization that they’re stuck in a turkey. (Dutton, incidentally, looks about twice his former size, even without his parka–he’s definitely entered a George Dzundza phase.) There are some younger players lurking about and showing equal evidence of acute embarrassment: Sean Patrick Flanery, Dina Meyer, Courtney B.Vance and Jeffrey Wright all contribute relatively brief turns. Not brief enough, though–they can still be recognized–and though Vance’s unruffled steadiness stands him in reasonably good stead as a cop with a preacher complex, Wright chews the scenery far too eagerly as a suicidal drug addict. Speaking of scenery, it should be noted that most of the interior sequences look to have been shot in a deserted sewer system or abandoned warehouse, and when the action moves outdoors, it’s into blizzard conditions that obliterate the images almost entirely (not entirely a bad thing). The bleakness of the surroundings and the gloomy lighting make for sequence after sequence when it’s virtually impossible to tell what’s going on. (The fact that the later reels seem to have been edited in a blender doesn’t help, either.) What little comes through, of course, isn’t worth the effort.

Nonetheless both Universal and DEJ deserve thanks from critics for being so considerate with the various titles they’ve sporadically assigned to the flick. Once it was called “The Outpost,” of which one could note, with only an alteration of the final syllable, that it deserved to be flushed. Then for a while it was titled “D-Tox,” which would invite the observation that it was toxic itself. And now they’ve settled on a moniker which permits one to suggest that the picture arrives in critical condition. As far as Stallone is concerned, that rumored new installment of “Rocky” could be his only shot at recovering some of his old glory, and even that offers no guarantees. And as for “Eye See You,” the best and simplest advice is: Don’t See It.