Pitch Black: David Twohy’s Sci-fi Thriller, Starring Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell

Basically plotless, Pitch Black, the Aussie-made sci-fi thriller, is a bargain-basement Aliens.

Mildly scary, but not particularly engaging on any other level, David Twohy‘s derivative tale concerns a docking pilot (played by the beautiful Radha Mitchell in a Sigourney Weaver-like role), who makes a forced crash-landing of her spacecraft on a distant, hot planet inhabited by mysterious creatures.

Mostly unlikable characters, and lukewarm visual and sound effects suggest a quick theatrical playoff en route to a slightly better life on video and other ancillary markets.

Twohy, who had previously helmed The Arrival and Disaster in Time, spins a tale that in its one-dimensional characterizations and indifferent visual effects recalls B-grade sci-fi of the 50s rather than state-of-the-art genre items.

Story takes one primal anxiety, fear of the dark, and stretches its narrative possibilities to the limits of a disappointing feature that is neither too frightening nor too engaging. The only element that delivers is Graeme Revell’s striking score that creates a menacing mood much more effectively that the plot itself.

Set in an unspecified, not-too-distant future, adventure revolves around a crash-landing of a spaceship in which most of the crew is killed. Pilot Fry (Mitchell) and lawman Johns (Cole Hauser) emerge unharmed, but so is their prisoner, Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convicted murderer whose very presence threatens the future of the few survivors.

What’s notable about the seemingly arid planet, where the spacecraft is stranded, is its brutal heat with unbearable temperature during the day. Headed by pilot Fry, the group can only hope for survival at night, except that strange creatures emerge after dark hunting for their prey. Yarn rehashes cliches of numerous similar adventures, in which a small bunch of disparate survivors is forced to unify despite internal conflicts in its struggle against nature and the elements.

Indeed, sci-fi premises are soon abandoned, when pic assumes the shape of a routine action-adventure, with the central trio–Fry, Johns, and Riddick–vying for position of dominance and leadership. With the exception of a few twists (a boy who turns out to be a girl) and one surprising subplot that relates to Johns’s identity, episodic plot is redundant and not particularly involving.

Brothers Jim and Ken Wheat, who have scripted a number of cheesy sequels for the big and small screen (among them, The Fly II A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, The Birds II), are unable to sustain tension in the storytelling. Worse, a number of the surviving passengers are simply not interesting enough to care enough whether they’ll succeed boarding the spaceship to safety at the end.

Tech credits for what seems to be a small-budget sci-fi are average, with production design by reliable pro Graham “Grace” Walker a notch or two above the rest.

Ferocious attacks by the monstrous creatures which, as conceived and fabricated by Patrick Tatopoulos and John Cox, look like a cross between big birds and dinosaurs, manage only partially to alleviate the tedium that defines the rest of the movie.