Paul W.S. Anderson has made some really lousy movies, including the original “Resident Evil” as well as Mortal Kombat” and “Death Race.” This time around, he’s merely a producer of one made by others; but he seems to have the reverse Midas touch, since it nonetheless rivals his own in awfulness. “Pandorum” is so bad it ought to be based on a video game, and it’s surprising that it’s not.
The script by Travis Milloy has the same premise as “Battle for Terra”—a spaceship leaves a resource-depleted earth with survivors searching for a new habitable planet. But in this case, the passengers and most of the crew have been put in cryogenic hibernation, as in “2001,” to manage the long journey. Unfortunately, something’s gone wrong. As the movie opens, one of the crew, Colonel Bower (Ben Foster), is painfully awakened from his slumber, and soon another, Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) is likewise roused. They remember little of the past, but discover that the ship is disabled. While Payton mans the controls as best he can, Bower takes off to reboot the reactor that will restore power.
That’s not as easy as it sounds, however, because the ship turns out to be crawling with carnivorous beasties (guys dressed outfits that appear to have been borrowed from “The Descent”) that might be mutant versions of some of the passengers. And the other crew members that Bower stumbles on during his search—Nadia (Antje Traue), Manh (Cung Le), Leland (Eddie Rouse) and Shepard (Norman Reedus)—turn out to be either of no help or positively dangerous, though of course Bower and Nadia eventually team up as a couple.
Meanwhile Payton encounters a weird crewman himself, an intense young fellow called Gallo (Cam Gigandet), who makes pronouncements about the madness—pandorum—that strikes people on long journeys. Turns out that Payton’s a strange bird, too—but that revelation is reserved for a twisty, and largely incomprehensible, finale.
Until then “Pandorum” basically consists of a long chase with lots of violent fights and gory episodes. It’s all meant to be exciting, of course, but quickly grows dull, since none of the characters are in the least likable and virtually everything is shot in dank visuals meant, one supposes, to be atmospheric but mostly coming across as just murky. And Wedigo von Schultzendorff’s jerky, hyperkinetic editing makes for an even bigger muddle.
The cast respond with scenery-chewing performances. Foster has never been a subtle actor, and unleashed as he is by Christian Alvert here, the result is pretty ferocious. Quaid spends most of the running time intoning lines like “Where are you, Bower?” and “Are you alright?” endlessly into a communications device, but at the end he busts loose into similarly overwrought playing. And Gigandet is over-the-top from the first moment he appears, as is Rouse. Traue is the Mila Jovovich stand-in, but there’s really no contest.
She does, however, get to deliver the script’s best line, when Nadia sagely informs Bower, “Running is always the best option.” That’s especially true when it’s from theatres showing this clunker.