Showing no interest in staking new ground, Bruce Hunt is content to make his directing debut by aping scenes from better examples of the horror/thriller genre. While it's too much to expect Ridley Scott's 1979 classic "Alien," a film that matched the unexpected fun of "Deep Blue Sea" would have sufficed. Indiscriminating folks may get a temporary rush; others will immediately sense a dud, although there are moments when they'll be more engrossed then they'd like to admit.
In Romania, a group of hotshot American divers, led by brothers Jack (Cole Hauser) and Tyler (Eddie Cibrian), investigate an enormous underwater cave system which used to lie below a 13th-century abbey. Decked out with sophisticated oxygen gear and tech equipment, the group, including token African-American Buchanan (Morris Chestnut) and token blonde hot chick Charlie (Piper Perabo), swim and climb miles below the earth. The expectation is that this cave is so deep and remote it may contain its own eco-system. But when one of the divers is attacked by a mysterious something, it becomes clear that the cave is dangerous and inhabited. Inhabited by what, of course, is the $64,000 question. And coincidentally, $64,000 is how much writers Michael Steinberg and Tegan West spent shopping the cliché aisle at the screenwriter's supermarket. It's disappointing, though not surprising, that the characters are just mobile bags of Monster Chow, trying to escape the cave before they're killed. Since there's not a moment of warmth or character business to fret over, the B-list cast is called upon mostly to scream and discuss whether to turn right or left. Hauser, always a rather cold actor, has the most work to do. At one point, he's injured by one of the creatures, which affects him in a way that should have led to serious third-act excitement. But, for reasons that won't be revealed here, we never see the final result of his injury, robbing the audience of something to look forward to.
When Hunt, who did third-unit work on the last two "Matrix" films, tries to overwhelm us with action, the result is a blurry mess, as when the team falls down a raging rapid. However, when he deigns to slow down and let a moment build, he commands your attention. There's a tasty sequence where Charlie, who conveniently strips down to her shorts for the effort, must fight off a monster while tethered to the side of a wall. The movie does contain scattered moments of tautness, but they only delay the inevitable feeling that the story is too repetitive and too slight for its running time.
Forging ahead with the unpleasant duty of bringing this particular story to life are some expert behind-the-scenes players. DP Ross Emery, who worked with Hunt on two "Matrix" films, gives "The Cave" a big-budget look. Also, some of the underwater photography is striking. Since the environment is so dark, we never get a satisfying look at the monsters, but they seem an overdesigned amalgam of creatures from various films and video games. It just goes to prove that when you're a movie monster, you can never have enough teeth.
"The Cave" makes the mistake of being twice as generic and half as clever as it should be. In an underperforming summer, when film executives and journalists are falling all over themselves trying to figure out why no one's going to the movies, "The Cave" should help provide an answer. Starring Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut and Eddie Cibrian. Directed by Bruce Hunt. Written by Michael Steinberg & Tegan West. Produced by Neil Bluhm, Judd Malkin and Marco Mehlitz. A Screen Gems release. Horror/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for intense creature violence. Running time: 97 min