Pitch Black
Director: David Twohy. Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Rhianna Griffith, Claudia Black. Screenplay: Jim and Ken Wheat and David Twohy (based on a story by Jim and Ken Wheat).

Pitch Black is action science-fiction that barely qualifies as action and not at all as either science or fiction. Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room), who is waiting for something better to come along, and Radha Mitchell (High Art), who barely pretends an interest, star as the two leaders of a crew of space travellers marooned on a sinister planet. Mitchell, the co-pilot of the crashed craft, had considered jettisoning the passenger compartment with its dozen or so paying travellers until stopped from doing so by her co-pilot (Cole Hauser). Of course, this revelation comes to light, but even that opportunity for narrative progression fails to enliven the main thread of this yarn, the millionth knock-off of the Aliens films to misunderstand completely what makes those films such extraordinary entertainments. Ripley, Ash, Bishop, Newt, and all the other participants in those narratives—well, perhaps less in the case of the latter two films—comprised fascinating human communities, who each had their own views of each other and, therefore, their own plans for battling the alien(s), even their own notions of what the aliens were.

Pitch Black, following its title, is totally in the dark about character development. It constitutes a significant (and much-praised!) arc in this picture for Diesel, a technologically-augmented killing machine, to help fight the good fight with the rest of the castaways when they begin, obligatorily, to be assaulted by flying, carnivorous outer-space nasties.
That's the best description I can give of the beasts, who look a little like hammerhead shark-pelican hybrids as designed by H.R. Giger. What the desperate strandees soon discover is that the creatures can only move (nay, survive) in darkness, so all movement must be done either by day or in the presence of bright electric lamps, flares, lightning bugs in a jar . . . Anything in this paragraph that sounds like a joke is not, and that extends to the imperialist plunderer trying to save his excavated bottles and trinkets, nor to the very spiritual black man whose presence all but negates the other character's implicit poke in the ribs at colonialist stereotypes. We also have on board a transgendered person whose obviously female anatomy made the "surprise" gender-bender on the flunked WB dramedy Young Americans seem like a Hitchcockian coup de révélation, and whose presence (not to mention his exposure) advances the narrative not one iota.

Given the low-fi cast and the crude nature of the effects, Pitch Black can't possibly have cost much to make, and yet I still can't believe what could have been done in the world with the money squandered on this turkey. There is something terrifically un-poignant about watching a picture destined not to be remembered, especially when its own cast seems already to have forgotten they are making a movie. Space junk of the lowest echelon. Grade: D

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