Better left alone

What should filmgoers make of this recent trend of movies based on videogames? The back story for most games is just a hasty excuse for running around and shooting things. That might not be a problem when you’re actually running and shooting (or at least pushing the buttons), but when you’re just watching the action, a little more substance is necessary. The latest miserable attempt to cash in on videogames’ success is “Alone in the Dark”(Lions Gate Films), based on a popular Atari game from the early ’90s.

The plot is an incomprehensible mess. Even the long, clunky opening narration doesn’t provide coherence. And it gets much worse from there. The story involves a “paranormal investigator” named Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), who as a child escaped from an experiment in which a professor tried to implant the genes of monsters last seen by an ancient civilization called the Abkani. The monsters come back in full force, and Carnby tries to figure out how to stop them with the help of his archaeologist ex-girlfriend (Tara Reid).

Reid is known for teen comedies like “Van Wilder” and “American Pie.” In a Hatchet interview, she said she was eager to branch out.

“I really love the fact that it was an action sci-fi thriller horror movie. It was a different kind of movie for me to be involved in,” she said. “Comedies are actually a lot harder to shoot than the horror movies. It’s harder to be funny than it is to be mad or scared.”

At 29, Reid may have to leave her adolescent roles behind. But her work in this film doesn’t bode well for her future as a real actress, with her face stuck in an expression of mild confusion, whether she’s decoding ancient writing or being attacked by a giant worm monster. She’s barely able to spout her faux-archaeological babble without looking perplexed. Slater doesn’t do much to help her out; he plows through the movie as if determined to ignore the ridiculousness around him.

But Reid doesn’t deserve all the blame for “Alone in the Dark.” After saying that she would like to work with “some of the great directors” – Spielberg, Scorcese or Oliver Stone, you have to wonder whether a better director could bring out some hitherto unseen talent.

Director Uwe Boll’s real focus isn’t the plot or the characters; it’s the action sequences. But the copious violence isn’t scary so much as it is nauseating. A woman’s head, split in two, is lingered on for a good minute; bullets riddle bodies in slow motion; a man is impaled on a spike that protrudes from a pile of dead fish. There’s no humor (at least, not intentionally), just lots of grim shootouts and explosions. The disappearing and reappearing monsters are somewhat cool looking, but no special effects can save this film from its own dreariness.

“Alone in the Dark” opens Friday, Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C.

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