Is "Supernova" a movie on its own or a new form--that pre-feature trivia quiz extended to feature length?
I'll spare you the questions; here are the answers. "Alien." "2001: A Space Odyssey." "Saturn Three." "Star Wars." And every other off-Earth movie ever made, dating back to "From Earth to the Moon."
As derivative as plastic moldings, the movie does feature one zany touch of originality--a lava lamp that may blow up the universe. You old goats know what the lava lamp is, that is if the marijuana you smoked in its presence hasn't rotted out your brain cells. But for you kids, it's a phallus-shaped cylinder full of liquid, lit from within, in which some kind of opaque gel (usually turquoise in color) turbulently seethes and heaves, forming sluggish permutations that resemble blue napalm. Look into it with a chemically fortified cerebellum and see the future while losing 30 IQ points per minute.
"Supernova" may have been written by somebody who spent much too much time looking into one: The lava lamp represents some kind of space time bomb containing material from the ninth dimension that, if detonated, will wipe out the universe but also renew it. It's urban renewal on an intergalactic scale. That's the downside; the upside is that it seems also to be some kind of youth drug: If you rub up against it, you regress toward strength, vitality, charisma and a serious party-animal mentality.
Alas, as your muscles grow hard, you also encounter that one sad reality of la vie adolescence: acne. At least an actor named Peter Facinelli, who plays the infected survivor who flees to rescue ship Nightingale 229 sometime in the 23rd century, demonstrates serious skin disturbances as the ninth dimension mojo quivers under his ectoplasm. Either that or he's trying so hard to imitate Tom Cruise (whom he somewhat resembles) his veins are inflating like dirigibles.
The plot hook is as ancient as the stars. Nightingale 229, directed by a strange distress call, ventures to a rogue moon, there to discover all save Facinelli's Karl Larson defunct. They take him aboard with his lava lamp, and he begins, in his way, to subtly rewire the sexual and political currents in the small crew. Like any healthy young man, he wishes merely to kill the men and have sex with the women and then go home with his treasure and become a millionaire.
Several of the grown-ups object (there's a secret theme of intergenerational conflict under the sci-fi shenanigans), namely two actors far too good for this material: Angela Bassett and James Spader. Bassett is nothing less than a national treasure, as gifted as she is charismatic and as charismatic as she is beautiful. Any movie that requires her to say "Prepare to activate dimension jump!" with a straight face needs to be arrested for squandering precious resources.
Spader, once so neurotic and clotted and insubstantial (as in "sex, lies and videotape"), has morphed into Clint Eastwood. He's buff, ripped and looks great in Hollywood spaceship wear, circa 2000, which, same as it ever was, seems to involve ski pants, double-knit T-shirts and polypropylene vests, all in primary colors. He has the dead eyes of a sniper with too many kills and a totally non-ironic command presence. He and Bassett make an attractive if somewhat intimidating pair.
The movie is directed by "Thomas Lee," who sometimes goes by his real name, Walter Hill. It doesn't matter. The style could be termed either anonymous or indifferent or both: lots of special effects (electricity is big), a spaceship that looks like a bagel-toasting machine, and 'splosions, 'splosions, 'splosions. The movie also boasts one last curiosity. I will guarantee you "Supernova" was filmed to win an R-rating; but someone at MGM decided to cut out the gory scenes to get it its PG-13. But the violence was already woven into the film, and so as it dynamically builds toward the shocker scene, a la "Alien's" famous chest-buster, the result is invariably anticlimactic. There's no money shot. So in more ways than one, it goes nowhere and when it gets there, it's not anywhere.
Supernova (100 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for mild violence and glimpses of nudity.
CAPTION: James Spader takes a Clint Eastwood-like turn in "Supernova."