Writer-director David Twohy, who previously gave us the silly
1996 sci-fi flick “The Arrival,” here tries to jazz up what’s
little more than a pale “Alien” ripoff with lots of cinematic
razzle-dazzle. He’s taken the hokey old plot about a bunch of
humans, shipwrecked on a grimly inhospitable planet and trying
to survive against a pack of hideous monsters who fly out of
caves to gobble them up in the dark, and gussied it up with
all sorts of flamboyant film-school tricks: bleached-out,
almost colorless cinematography in the daylight scenes, knife-
edged editing, sharp punctuations of sound, messy hand-held
camerawork, and the like. But the result is a movie that’s
not just dull but seems punch-drunk to boot, like the recent
“Bats” on some psychedelic drug.

The picture begins with the drawn-out crash of the ship, a
disaster in which the captain is killed, leaving strong-willed
docking pilot Fry, a sort of Ripley Lite (Radha Mitchell) in
charge. Other survivors include a teenager (Rhiana Griffith),
who turns out to have one of the most unsurprising secrets in
history; a Muslim cleric (Keith David) and two of his students;
an effete antique dealer (Kewis Fitz-Gerald); a geologist
(Claudia Black); and, most importantly, a cop (Cole Hauser)
transporting a hard-boiled criminal (Vin Diesel) back to the
slammer. Naturally it’s the laconic, highly-muscled con who
proves, in true “Stagecoach” style, to be the real hero of the
bunch when a hoarde of sharp-toothed carnivores come out
during the planet’s “perpetual” night to feast upon the little
band of intrepid stragglers.

To be fair there are a few decent special effects in “Pitch
Black.” The first view of the dinosaur-like monsters swarming
out of the ground is pretty nifty, and there’s an occasional
nice touch as the chase drags on. But for the most part the
characters are dull, the dialogue lame, and the situations
awfully predictable. The technical pizzazz, moreover, just
irritates the audience by making the plot twists even less
than they would otherwise have been.

Under the circumstances it’s not really fair to blame the
actors, whose amateurishness seems appropriate to the material
(although Diesel’s stolid machismo is so over-the-top as to be
pretty laughable). Still, as “Pitch Black” lurches on, a
viewer’s only amusement lies in trying to calculate which of
the characters is going to get picked off next–and when they’re
all so boring, one ends up wishing that every last one will be
dispatched quickly, thereby at least shortening the running-