The Reeler


July 18, 2007


Few rays of light in Boyle's pseudo-sci-fi, cliché mash-up

Director Danny Boyle is only as strong as his material, which is a nice way of saying that he'll never make another movie as good as Trainspotting. A deadly combination of dubious talents, Boyle's irrepressible urge to stylize his source material within an inch of its life clashes with his lack of a sense of humor (unless the screenplay is explicitly, heavily ironic). Trainspotting called for both, and perhaps no one else could have done it so well.

With that earned clout, however, Boyle ill-advisedly focuses the same approach on much weaker material. This makes him the worst sort of genre nerd, the kind who believes that trashy horror movies are best redeemed by massive amounts of portent and heavily telegraphed conflict. In the follow-up to the histrionic 28 Days Later, Boyle reunites with screenwriter Alex Garland, who once again exacerbates these tendencies with another screenplay heavy on familiar dramatic tropes and screaming confrontations.

The premise for Sunshine is a hoary one, the ostensible spawn of a thousand Star Wars and Alien hybrids, though it’s actually an unholy combination of the humorless parts of Armageddon and the goofier conceits of Mission To Mars. Earth is dying, and a crew dispatched to save the sun runs into monsters and abandoned space-ships; heroism ensues. No surprises here -- the crew is scrupulously multi-ethnic and gender-balanced, there's an emergency space-walk to repair a damaged ship, and every conflict and complication occurs as a result of people repeatedly making emotional, illogical and damaging decisions. Example: En route to the sun, navigation officer Trey (Benedict Wong) screws up a change in direction, frying many of the solar panels necessary to sustain life on the ship. His excuse? He was stressed. Given that 1) the ship -- the Icarus II, ha ha -- is mankind's last hope for survival, 2) all of mankind's usable resources have been stripped from Earth in a cooperative effort for the bomb that will save us all, and 3) the previous Icarus mission failed, you'd think someone would double-check those numbers.

Rampant implausibility by itself isn't enough to kill a potentially enjoyable summer trash-fest. No, to really suck the joy out of it, say hello to Garland's atrocity of a screenplay: dismal and exposition-laden, it’s a first draft that would get laughed out of Screenwriting 101. Characters remind each other of their occupations and things they already know for audience benefit ("We're 55 million miles from Earth"). Later, after we know who everyone is, they spell out the subtext for slow learners ("What are you trying to do, remind us of our lost humanity?"). The cast is unable to subvert the dialogue with any wit, bringing us the end of the world as experienced by a future-but-equally- one-dimensional “Real World” cast.

And so we’re marched at overbearing musical gunpoint through an enforced trek to Wonder & Grandeur, the crew inevitably fighting through out-of-left-field monster attacks to save us all. It’s a journey which culminates in the post-rock apocalypse -- the same two notes ascending up the scale over and over again, with a screensaver of a sun filling up the frame. Sunshine is quite a mash-up of clichés: part pleasingly retro, Carl Sagan-ish love of the infinity of space, all stoned grandeur and mellow reverbed guitar when staring out into the void; part pseudo-philosophical disquisition on The Meaning of Life; part half-assed horror movie ("Pinhead in Space," quipped a colleague after the screening).

Mostly it’s just plain wearisome, and the fault lies with Boyle. Always inflating minor cliché into a major pain in the ass, finding the hyperbolic in the mundane, he cuts like a speed freak during the ostensibly calm opening, so the tempo never really seems to increase once things actually get bad. Granted, only Renny Harlin, whose equally ridiculous Deep Blue Sea and Mindhunters suggest a deft touch in redeeming the absurd, could have saved this film. But being asked to take this poorly conceived space opera seriously is a bummer of a trip. Begbie and the gang didn’t even take real-world heroin addiction that seriously; how hard could it be to blow up a freakin’ star?

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Comments (2)

You don't sound like somebody who actually likes movies.

Other way around...if I didn't like them too much, I wouldn't get this mad.

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