Some people think they're a new art form; others see them as adolescent time-killers. Whatever they are, video games don't make good models for feature films (mostly because their interactive essence is lost), and their clumsy transfer to the big screen continues to invite all kinds of speculation -- not much of it complimentary. Is the entertainment industry so completely devoid of fresh ideas that it must embrace this new form of recycling? Is there no limit to pandering? What bastard child results from the momentary insertion of joystick into Hollywood star?
Whatever the answers may be, the lame paranormal thriller Alone in the Dark is no more likely to please devotees of the best-selling Atari video game on which it is based than the average nonplaying moviegoer in search of a transgressive shock or two. According to early reports from the gamer crowd, the movie fails to reproduce anything like the source game's escape-or-die intrigues, and despite German director Uwe Boll's experience in such matters -- in 2003 he adapted the popular Sega game, The House of the Dead, for the multiplex -- the filmed version of Alone is about as scary as a Presbyterian bake sale. Stuffed with cheap thrills and familiar special effects, this is the horror-action genre at its silliest and most uninspired. Consider the depth of insult to the late horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose Poe-tinged fiction is said to be the original inspiration for the game: He's now the victim of a second-generation ripoff.
Herewith, a dollop of plot and character: Our hero, a dauntless investigator of the paranormal named Edward Carnby (a distressed-looking Christian Slater), finds himself in deep when his old dorm-mates from the Catholic orphanage where he grew up all freak out on the same day and start wandering around like zombies. It's difficult to know it in light of the movie's bewildered script and chaotic editing, but this has something to do with the ongoing experiment of an evil scientist named Hudgens (Mathew Walker), who apparently implanted an ugly parasite in their spinal cords twenty years ago. That won't do, though. The movie's three screenwriters throw in a mess of dense mumbo-jumbo about a vanished civilization called the Abkani, a plague of monsters -- half dog, half dragon, all metallic and spiny -- who delight in tearing human beings to bits, and a secret government SWAT team that hunts down aliens.
In other words, good old Edward has his hands full. No sooner does he escape a shootout with a mutant who is not even slowed down by a couple of slugs straight through the chest than he is belted in the kisser by his girlfriend, Aline (American Pie's Tara Reid), who's pissed off because he traipsed off to bargain with black marketeers in Chile without leaving her a voice message. On the other hand, Aline has her good points. Not only is she an expert anthropologist who can decode all kinds of ancient texts, she's an expert anthropologist who can decode all kinds of ancient texts while she is fluffing up her $500 hairdo and exposing five inches of taut, perfectly tanned midriff to all who care to gaze upon it.
Boll, who is clearly in thrall to the scores of special effects technicians listed in the credits, contents himself with providing the usual glimpses into gun barrels, fiery conflagrations and gory impalements. His dog-dragon monsters snatch helicopters out of the air. His huge spiny snakes slash into brainpans. His grand finale, which takes place in -- where else? -- an abandoned gold mine underneath the hero's old orphanage, is a festival of machine-gun fire, blood and dismemberment. Watching (and, unfortunately, hearing) all this unfold, as if for the 200th time, serves only to remind any viewer who's gotten past the acne period how desensitized we've become to the common spectacle of movie violence: The cartoonish atrocities we witness here have no more emotional effect than a crossing guard holding up a stop sign. We stop. We yawn. We wait to move on.
In the meantime, we are subjected to unintended howlers like the scene in which the intrepid hero gets his first look at a stack of bleached skulls twenty feet high and gravely announces: "I'm not sure we should be down here."
Said another way, Alone in the Dark is garbage, pure and simple. Cynical, predictable, paint-by-numbers garbage with scarcely a thrill in its entire 96 minutes, and the whole thing obscured by pseudo-scientific gibberish. Asked what he does for a living by a curious cab driver, Slater's investigator explains: "I hunt and track down the strange and unusual." Apparently, that doesn't apply these days to the True Romance star's choice of movie roles.