Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Supernova

By Marc Savlov

JANUARY 24, 2000: 

D: Thomas Lee; with James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz. (PG-13, 91 min.)

How bad is it? Very bad indeed. Advance word on this sci-fi free for all has been growing increasingly grim since production wrapped almost two years back. In the ensuing months, it's been the victim of directorial disputes, editing melees, and bad PR. And sadly, all of these seem to have taken their toll on what could have been a promising film. Directed not by Thomas Lee (no such man exists, so we'll assume he's kin to that other cinematic nom de merde, Alan Smithee) but by action virtuoso Walter Hill (48 HRS) from a script by William Malone (director of House on Haunted Hill), Supernova is, frankly, superbad, and I'm not talking about John Shaft, either. Following the misadventures of the Emergency Medical Rescue Vehicle Nightingale, Supernova pits the spaceship's six-person crew against Facinelli's wounded space miner, whom they rescue from a distant moon orbiting a collapsing star in the throes of supernova. While their ship's fuel cells were drained by a calamity while exiting hyperspace, the crew ­ Captain Marley (a bored Forster), ship's physician Evers (Bassett), and Spader's recovering druggie/marine Nick Van Zant ­ battle for their lives against their passenger and some sort of bioengineered superweapon he's brought on board. They should have battled for a decent script. Supernova stinks of bad behind-the-scenes decision-making. You can tell Hill, and probably Malone as well, thought they had the next Alien when they first approached the idea, but things obviously went awry somewhere down the pike. Apart from suffering from a glut of tremendously bad dialogue, Supernova's casting is, to say the least, odd. Spader, an actor so aloof he's practically feline, is teamed with the simmering Bassett as his love interest, and the few sparks they generate fizzle almost instantly. And where on earth did that relationship come from, anyway? The film's take on deep space lovin' is juvenile ("People get lonely in space," whines Bassett, looking anything but lonely, while the ship's nymphos ­ Phillips and Tunney ­ continuously get it on atop the Nightingale's zero-gravity observation deck). Usually, even a muddled, incomprehensible mess like this can pull itself up by its bootstraps and manage a few decent CGI effects, but Supernova even fails that litmus test, offering instead a barrage of purple-hued light shows and swirly color schemes that had me thinking the Artist Formerly Known as Prince was about to make an entrance instead of the requisite universal threat the script called for. Bombastic and grating, Supernova fails chiefly because it's senseless. How it even managed to bypass the straight-to-video route boggles the mind and is a speculative fiction far more engaging than any to be found onscreen.

1.5 Stars


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