Supernova, 2000. Directed by Thomas Lee. James Spader, Angela Bassett, Peter Farinelli, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney, Robert Forster.

When I sat down in the theater for Supernova, I was under the impression that its director, billed as "Thomas Lee," was perhaps a recent graduate from the Hong Kong film industry, coming to Hollywood on the heels of John Woo, Che-Kirk Wong, or Ronny Yu. I hadn't read anything about it, so I didn't know, but I made an assumption based on the name. The day AFTER I saw the movie, I discovered that the Director's Guild of America had retired their time- honored pseudonym for directors who want to take their name off of their work. That's right: after a long and ignominious career, Alan Smithee had retired. I have to admit that this saddened me a bit. I have actually enjoyed tracking down Smithee's scattered and myriad attrocities and matching them to the real culprits. It's just one of those pleasures in which we hard core film buffs indulge to the mystification of our friends and families. Fortunately, the DGA had already named Smithee's replacement, and to my surprise, I had already seen his first film: you guessed it, Thomas Lee. Supernova, it turns out, was ACTUALLY directed by Walter Hill. Hill, who was one of the movers and shakers behind the Alien movies, should have known better. He has made some stinkers in his day, but none as rank as this one. In fact, after Hill left the project in disgust, the film was composed in the editing room by Francis Ford Coppola, no less. Well, shame on both of them. Shame, shame, shame.

A deep space medical vessel receives a distress call from a distant mining colony. When the dimension drive is engaged, their captain is killed when his dimensional stability chamber malfunctions (he is kinda sorta turned inside-out). This leaves malcontented loner James Spader in charge. When our heroes arrive on the scene, they are met by a single vessel making good its escape from the mining colony. It contains one suspicious passenger and a strange cargo--an extra-dimensional egg-looking thingy. It turns out that this thingy is actually a bomb designed send suns supernova and our suspicious passenger has been made superhuman in order to deliver it to the space of the next species marked for extinction (that would be us, by the way). To this end, he begins exterminating our heroes. This sounds a lot better than it plays. The main character motivations in the film seem to be how to get their crewmates in the zero-g chambers in order to have sex (implausible sex, at that), the sets seem to have been done on the cheap, and the fate of the universe is decided in a series of (badly staged) fist fights in which many plate glass partitions get characters thrown through them. Peter Farinelli should be singled out, in particular, for one of the worst Tom Cruise imitations in memory--I mean, the instant you see him, you think, "This guy is a sleazeball, so out the airlock with him!" The film is doubly cursed, since this is all played horribly straight, without a hint of self-deprications or fun. Joyless would be a good word to describe the tone of the movie, as if everyone involved knew they were trapped in a project in which no one was interested.

Now, surely, it can't be entirely bad. Well, it isn't. I've seen worse movies in the last 12 months (the remake of The Haunting, for instance). James Spader manages to project a certain tired authority in his performance, as does Angela Bassett. I like the fact that Bassett's character concedes that the "bomb" can only be explained by mathematics rather than spoken English, and I liked the actual function of that "bomb." But these moments are so brief and so far-between that they can't possibly save even a part of the movie.

I am not entirely sure when the sci-fi thriller appropriated the plot of the slasher movie, but it is common enough now to depress me. It has happened before, when sci-fi movies were ascendant at the same time that slasher movies were ascendant (after the dual successes of Star Wars and Halloween)--so perhaps the cyclical histories of both genres are caught in an endless loop of repetition (recent allegedly science fictional movies using the slasher movie plot include Event Horizon and Pitch Black)  I am told that MGM pissed 60 million dollars down this particular hole, which frankly astonishes me. I've seen better-looking direct-to-video or -cable projects.