About halfway through this warmed-over rehash of Species, The Abyss, the first Predator and the entire Alien franchise, an explorer pokes his head into a dark crevice and reports, Smells like methane. He couldnt be more right. The Cave is exactly the sort of late-summer stink bomb that major studios dump on audiences after all the blockbusters have fizzled away.
The movie opens like a frat-boy version of The Life Aquatic, with a bunch of buff scientists and a token spunky chick (Piper Perabo) sailing the waters in search of underwater holes to go spelunking in. When called away to a new expedition in Romania, they find an uncharted region miles below a 13th century church, where they hope to discover new life forms.
Needless to say, they do, and the subterranean creatures sure as hell aint fraggles. The slimy beasts seem innocuous enough at first resembling moles and scorpions covered in layers of KY jelly but before long, the explorers discover tentacled organisms, huge bat-like creatures and praying mantis monsters. After one of them sinks its claws into leader Jack (Cole Hauser), his eyes turn the color of Marilyn Mansons contact lenses, and the once level-headed navigator starts to get all freaky. While the rest of the crew cries mutiny, Jacks square-jawed brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian) stands by his sibling, no matter what the cost.
Of course, most of the cast members exist merely to be gobbled up by the slime-beasts. Theres a lot of build-up in the first half-hour of the film: The hunky guys stand around in sleeveless wet suits looking like bouncers at a posh gay bar, while the women furrow their brows and say pseudo-technical things like, Those tendrils look familiar. The creature designs are impressive, but director Bruce Hunt has made the action so frenetic, its hard to get a good look at them. Most of the time, its impossible to tell whats going on, or where our heroes need to go to escape.
Still, just when youve written off the movie, theres a pulse-pounding rock-climbing scene involving Perabo, a bunch of razor-sharp stalactites and a ready-to-pounce slime-beast. Its a coherent, well-crafted scene, and it helps that Perabo is the only cast member who seems fully invested in the silliness of her part. Its nice to see the star of Coyote Ugly finally learn how to make the most of a crappy role.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.