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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Supernova (review)

Stars Go Boom

Picture this:

James Spader: Action Hero.

Makes you shudder, doesn’t it? Spader apparently thinks it’s a pretty horrifying idea, too. So much so that he disguises himself in Supernova: his usually blond head is now dark, he’s all buff and pumped up where he’s typically kind of mushy, and he lowers his voice to a growly whisper through it all. Spader’s either embarrassed to be seen here, or else he’s going for an intense-sexy kind of thing. I hope it’s shame, because he only comes across as creepy.

Supernova is just like Alien, only not good. Following the standard issue SF plot No. 42, a bunch of people (1) out in the middle of nowhere on a spaceship (2) get picked off one by one by Something Evil (3). Here (1) is some sex-crazed paramedics, (2) is the hospital ship Nightingale, and (3) is a phallic-looking alien thingamajig.

Be a-scared — be very a-scared. Or something.
The Nightingale picks up a distress call from a mining operation in a remote sector of space, and immediately the writers* and director decide to chuck logic right out the airlock. The crew has to pack themselves into protective pods in order to survive dimensional transfer or dimensional warp or whatever the heck the technobabble was. But there’s a problem with one of the pods, and the captain (Robert Forster: Psycho, Jackie Brown) valiantly orders a crew member to switch pods with him. So, only enough pods for crew? None for patients? The Nightingale is like a two-seater ambulance. Very practical.

But, never mind. We have to eliminate the captain — who dies in a nasty accident in the damaged pod — so that James Spader: Action Hero, I mean, Nick Vanzant can take command. Nick’s not a doctor, and he doesn’t even play one on TV, so what he’s doing on the Nightingale is up to you to decide. But it gives Spader probably the only opportunity he’ll ever have to play — *snicker* — the alpha male.

Oh, and here’s the best part: Everyone has to strip buck nekkid for “dimensional transfer,” and dimensional travel is supposed to do something for your sex drive, so everyone pops out of their pods hot and horny. Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips: Courage Under Fire, who probably deserves better than this) and Danika Lund (Robin Tunney, proving her slack-jawed performance in End of Dayswas no fluke) sneak off for some nooky. Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), the only gay guy around, resumes his bizarre affair with the ship’s flirty, “female” computer, Sweetie, whom I kept expecting to ask Benj to excuse her while she slipped into a more comfortable subroutine. And Nick? Well, he and the doctor, Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett: Contact), have been glaring at each other a lot and have squared off in a few intense confrontations: They hate each other passionately. So you know they’re gonna have really great sex.

But wait. Weren’t they on a rescue mission? I’ve got nothing against sex, but this is a tame PG-13 movie, so we get nothing but a few bare butts and a quick glimpse of Robin Tunney’s breasts while we wait for something to happen. They all continue to forget their jobs until an out-of-control shuttle from the mining operation below docks with the Nightingale. On the shuttle is Troy Larson (Peter Facinelli), who has with him the glowing briefcase from Repo Man and Pulp Fiction, which Lou Diamond Phillips falls in love with.

I know: It makes no sense. But it gets worse. The glowing thing in the suitcase is the phallic alien whatchamacallit, which Troy says he found in the abandoned mining base. Kaela is suspicious because Troy says he’s the son of her old lover, Carl, “one of the worst people that ever lived.” It’s true that Troy is a skanky little weasel, just like the man he claims is his dad.

Things go south from here, and no one has time for any more sex. If you’ve seen even one horror science-fiction flick, you’ll see every “twist” coming a parsec away. The characters can’t see them, because violent entertainment was banned back in the twenty-first century — we learned this from the dissertation on Tom and Jerry cartoons the captain was writing before he exploded. (I couldn’t make this up.) If even one member of the crew had seen Aliens or just one episode of Galaxy Quest, they’d have known what to expect. See how bad censorship is?

Even worse than the unsurprising, unscary plot is all the crappy sci-fi poeticism about, like wow, how stars explode to give off the elements that make up humans, and how we’re all made of starstuff, and then when we die, we in turn make the stars.

I know they’re talking about stars in the sky, but when Angela Bassett’s career implodes after this piece of crap, will her scraps nourish some other young actor’s dreams of stardom?

*’Supernova’ employed many writers. Are you surprised?

[reader comments on this review]


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and sensuality/nudity

viewed at a public multiplex screening

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