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Ahh, February, like its preceding month, a traditional dumping ground for all of Hollywood’s flotsam.  Even trash decorated with all-star names is disposed of in this wasteland of studio should’ve-known-betters.  ‘Tis the season of ‘let’s throw this tripe at the audience and see what sticks.’  It was clearly with this attitude full of shrug that Sanctum was released.  A film so torturous that even chanting producer James Cameron’s name over and over as is done in this spectacle’s TV spots and trailers cannot summon a better movie.

The entire film is based around a huge hole in the ground.  Somewhere in New Guinea, a team of explorers sees some point to digging further into the earth than anyone has gone before.  Why exactly, not really sure, but off they go; the filthy rich adventurer who really wants to put his name on the big crater, his girlfriend, just there for giggles, the tough-as-nails team leader who’s seen all there is to see under the earth, and his son, shying at the bit at the thought of being made into his father’s image.  If you have read this far and have figured out what’s going to happen when a bunch of people in a movie get together to take on Mother Nature and go somewhere they have no business being, you’ve just saved yourself thirteen bucks (- nineteen if you planned to opt for the IMAX 3D gimmick).

There are simply no surprises in this stale, worn-out, alleged action story.  You can see the peril coming from minute one and there’s nothing original or clever in the script or special effects to make it enjoyable.  The only astonishing aspect of the film is how very unimpressive the visuals are because we’ve been hammered over the head with the knowledge that James Cameron did indeed produce this dreck.  Often the scenes inside the caves look like the cast is surrounded by Styrofoam rocks.  There’s a cheapness to the production that is hard to reconcile with the guy who created Avatar {2009}, Terminator 2 {1991}, The Abyss {1989} and Aliens {1986}.  Still, Cameron didn’t direct this, so we have Alister Grierson to blame for some genuinely laughable acting and a complete inability to make anything of the inadvertently hilarious script.  When the audience starts howling at what is meant to be emotional dialog during a supposedly heartrending scene, you’ve got problems.  One can’t blame moviegoers for thinking the words are trite, as the entire script seems to be made up of clichés and corny lines. 

Back to the effects; besides looking chintzy and mediocre, even in 3D, one of the big problems is that it’s a cave.  That’s it, just a cave.  A big hole in the ground in which you will either fall down to your death, or in the case of the torrential flooding that turns the cavern into an underwater sarcophagus, drown in.  The only intrigue is the MacGyver-like methods team leader Frank uses to try to keep his group alive.  They’ll either work or they won’t and that’s not enough to sustain any real suspense considering all the things wrong with the film. 

The cast can’t do a thing with the impossibly bad script.  This makes me sad for Richard Roxburgh, a fine actor who has never gotten a proper shot to follow up on the success of his turn as the avaricious millionaire with a thing for Nicole Kidman in 2001’s Moulin Rouge.  Roxburgh strikes all the right notes as the gruff, burly man who knows more about fissures in the earth than he does about his son.  We never are bothered to find out exactly why that is, but Roxburgh gives far more to the character than did the screenwriters.  Ioan Gruffudd is owed big time for the one-dimensional love child of Paul Reiser’s corporate shill from Aliens and Richard Branson he’s got to portray, complete with rangy, regional American accent.  I normally welcome the stronger female characters featured in James Cameron-related projects, but egads was Alice Parkinson shrill and irritating as the millionaire’s girlfriend, Victoria.  She would abruptly vacillate from spunky and can-do (- having met her wealthy beau on a climb to Mt. Everest, we’re told) to shrieking and helpless.  Then again, I could understand her lack of confidence that the team’s bickering menfolk could save her hash.  Weirdly, it seems like she’s been overdubbed by another voice; all of Victoria’s dialog seems louder and somehow detached from Parkinson’s lips.  If we take into account that all the characters in Sanctum are cardboard cutouts, it at least adds a weird meta subtext that gives some kind of distraction from the nothing happening on screen.

Bad, just bad.  Sanctum is boring, dreary, unoriginal and possessed of a script so laughably terrible it should never have made it past the treatment stage.  Want to see a guy fight his way out of a big hole in the ground?  Watch last year’s 127 Hours.  Want the same kind of action and underwater frights, but done a million times better?  Rent the original Poseidon Adventure {1972}.  There’s no point in tossing your hard-earned dosh down a well as endless as Sanctum.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 4th, 2011

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Universal Pictures)

 

 

 

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