On the face of it, the nominal thrillers "Hide and Seek" and "Alone in the Dark" have little in common, other than the fact that, in the perverse parallel universe known as Hollywood, Robert De Niro and Tara Reid put the same thing under "profession" on their tax forms. But both films also squander the peculiar potential to become their own kind of camp classics.
"Hide and Seek" features a pedigreed cast that includes not only De Niro but the gifted young actress Dakota Fanning, as well as such respected supporting players as Amy Irving, Elisabeth Shue and Dylan Baker. It possesses the sleek production values and sophisticated look of several modern-day horror movies -- from "Rosemary's Baby" to "What Lies Beneath" -- that seem part of a plot by the denizens of Beverly Hills to instill in the great unwashed a primal fear of expensive homes.
Christian Slater and Tara Reid -- in the role of sexy archaeologist -- battle underground monsters in "Alone in the Dark."
And the first two-thirds of "Hide and Seek" are admittedly pretty good. De Niro plays a recently widowed psychologist who moves with his 9-year-old daughter Emily (Fanning) to a rambling Victorian farmhouse in Upstate New York so the girl can recover from her mother's death. Fanning ("I Am Sam," "Man on Fire"), whose light hair is darkened here and whose angelic face has been maquillaged to a waxy pallor, does an outstanding job of playing a hollow-eyed basket case; you know "Hide and Seek" is taking you to the dark side when everyone keeps calling her a "cute kid" -- nothing could be further from the truth. De Niro, whose performances can never exactly be described as bad, delivers the kind of instantly forgettable turn that reminds viewers he's made films like "Falling in Love" and "The Fan."
Director John Polson ("Swimfan") does a good job of gradually ratcheting up the tension, as Emily befriends a mysterious person named Charlie. As strange things begin to happen, it's anyone's guess just who's behind them: the creepy real estate guy, the creepy sheriff or the creepy neighbor. But when the big -- and, it turns out, utterly predictable -- reveal occurs, high class briefly gives way to high camp, which then itself dissipates to an anticlimactic thud.
"Alone in the Dark," a supremely idiotic B-movie sewn haphazardly together from the tattered shreds of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and "28 Days Later," stars Christian Slater and the aforementioned Miss Reid (or, more accurately, her midriff) as a couple that run afoul of subterranean creatures that look like they'd taste good broiled, with a bit of drawn butter.
Slater plays a former government agent whose search for the remains of an ancient tribe coincides with a mad scientist's plot to destroy -- or at least inconvenience -- the Bay Area. Reid, who plays an archaeologist and telegraphs her character's intellect by wearing glasses and putting her hair in a bun, gets to say things like, "I started deciphering the pictogram for you." The rest of the cast (which includes the once-promising actor Stephen Dorff) zip around in stylish paramilitary gear and say things like "Defend the perimeter" and "Roger that," all in the course of the utterly uninvolving pursuit of utterly nonsensical creatures from the Black Whatever.
At times, "Alone in the Dark" veers tantalizingly close to being one of those movies that is so bad it's good, but in the end, it's so bad it's just . . . bad. "Some doors are meant to stay shut," Reid says at one point. Roger that.
Hide and Seek (100 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for frightening sequences and violence.
Alone in the Dark (96 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence and profanity.