Screenplay : David Campbell Wilson (story by William Malone and Daniel Chuba)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : James Spader (Nick Vanzant), Angela Bassett (Kaela Evers), Lou Diamond Phillips (Yerzy Penalosa), Peter Facinelli (Troy Larson), Robin Tunney (Danika Lund), Wilson Cruz (Benjamin Sotomejor), Robert Forster (A.J. Marley), Vanessa Marshall (voice of Sweetie)
It is always a bad sign when a studio writes off a movie as a financial loss long before it is released, which is exactly what happened with MGM's $65-million "Supernova," a half-baked science fiction rip-off that manages to be both excruciatingly simplistic and utterly incoherent at the same time. It is a movie that, at one time or another, was under the auspices of at least four different directors (including Francis Ford Coppola, of all people, who helped suture together the dismal final cut). And, at only 91 minutes in length, it feels like the Cliff's Notes version of a dime-store paperback.
The director with the most input into the film was Walter Hill, who ended up asking that his name be removed from the final product (he is credited with the pseudonym Thomas Lee). Although Hill was a hot commodity in the 1980s when he directed popular films like "48 Hrs." (1982) and produced "Aliens" (1986), he has recently hit a string of duds, including "Wild Bill" (1995) and "Last Man Standing" (1996), and his involvement with "Supernova" is not likely to help his future prospects. With little evidence of having been helmed by a director with anything resembling talent or experience , "Supernova" is a jaw-droppingly bad movie--one that isn't even bad in a fun way, like an Ed Wood movie or Brian De Palma at his most self-absorbed. No, "Supernova" is that most dull incarnation of the bad movie: flat-out incompetent.
The story takes place some time in 22nd century and concerns a medical rescue ship called the Nightingale 662. The crew of the Nightingale--a group of easily forgettable characters played by-the-number by otherwise reliable actors like James Spader, Angela Bassett, and Lou Diamond Phillips--responds to an emergency distress signal sent from a distant moon. The Nightingale is controlled by a computer named Sweetie that features a sexy female voice (Vanessa Marshall) and is beginning to show signs of human feeling. When the crew arrives at their destination, they pick up a handsome young man named Troy (Peter Facinelli), who claims he was scavenging an old government strip mine when his friends deserted him.
The first clue that something isn't right about Troy is when a medical scan shows that he has some kind of strange bone growth, as if his bones are constantly strengthening themselves. More questions arise when Troy's ship is searched, and the Nightingale crew discovers an amorphous, glowing blob of phosphorous light that turns out to be a ridiculous plot device called "ninth-dimensional matter," which is capable of wiping out the universe and rebuilding it from scratch. It also turns anyone who gets too close to it into a super-sexed, super-charged, super-stud, which is exactly what Troy has become. (It also seems to make people evil, although it is suggested that Troy was a bad boy long before he came into contact with the ninth-dimensional matter.)
When he isn't seducing a female crew member (Robin Tunney) in one of the film's two snicker-inducing and painfully unerotic sex scenes that take place in an anti-gravity chamber, Troy is rampaging through the ship killing people in a bid to ... well, it's never made clear exactly what his plans are. Besides temporarily getting his kicks as an evil superman, Troy can't do anything with the ninth-dimensional matter other than destroy the universe, which would, of course, include destroying himself.
What is odd about watching "Supernova" is that, every once in a while, you catch a snippet of dialogue or a short scene that suggests there was more--much more--to the screenplay (credited to David Campbell Wilson) before it went to the editing room and suffered at the hands of so many different people. For instance, there is a plot line about James Spader's character being some kind of recovering drug addict that is never followed up on. The relationship between Spader and Angela Bassett's character is also strangely vague and underdeveloped. They are antagonists from the start, but then there's an odd love scene between the two of them that comes out of nowhere and leads to nothing (supposedly, this was Coppola's idea, and the two bodies in the love scene don't even belong to Spader and Bassett--they are actually the digitally altered bodies of Facinelli and Tunney during their love scene).
"Supernova" would, of course, be at least bearable if it had featured some stirring action sequences and exciting special effects. But, being that this was such a doomed project from the start, not even the basic genre material provides a pay-off. The action sequences are clumsy and ineffective, and most of the special effects are yawn-inducing, if not downright cheesy. Parts of the movie resemble the bad "Alien" knock-offs Roger Corman used to produce 20 years ago. Of course, at least those had a kind of kitschy, off-color charm, and one can't help but wonder what a good camp comedy "Supernova" could have been if only its makers hadn't been so intent on salvaging it as a by-the-numbers genre picture.
©2000 James Kendrick