This movie is a sleeper--as in "a little nap will help you through it."


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Sphere" is a special case. As a genuinely terrible movie, it doesn't make news. There are lots of those. But it elevates itself to special status by being a jaded, cynical insult to millions of people who will pay $8 per ticket-plus food counter-to see it. Why will they see it? They will go because, like a cheap computer with an Intel chip, the myth says it can't be all bad when it has star power.

Michael Crichton wrote the novel and co-produced the movie with director Barry Levinson ("Wag the Dog"), imparting the promise of adventure to the project. Then someone spun the roulette wheel for stars and dropped Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson into the spinning slots. Now the poison is coated with chocolate.

The opening isn't bad. Psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman) is skimming across the Pacific Ocean in a helicopter, summoned to a secret project by Mr. Barnes (Peter Coyote). The mysteriously powerful, and seemingly autonomous Barnes has assembled a flotilla of naval ships in a remote Pacific spot to explore the discovery of a sunken spaceship that may or may not harbor an alien being.

Norman is joined by marine biologist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), a former student with whom he once had a Clintonesque affair; cerebral mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), and Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber), an astrophysicist who lends a bit of spark to the party.

Barnes immediately dispatches his three civilians--in designer diving suits--to the undersea station that will serve as their operations base. It's good to learn that diving skills are common ingredients of astrophysics, mathematics, and psychology.

For the next two hours, our glittering stars worry about "things falling into the wrong hands," and about the obvious probability that "we're all going to die down here." Not one of these three good actors manages to transcend the sophomoric script they should have rejected in unison at the outset. Awash in jellyfish, snakes, and death by slow gurgling, against rushes of frenzied scare music, they can't lift a movie that starts with a bang and ends as a wet firecracker.

Writers grown lazy miss even what stares them in the face. Early on, they have fun with the scientists bringing their specialized knowledge to bear on the threat of the golden sphere, in a time-travelling spacecraft whose mystery is fathomed only by Harry, the mathematician. Unfortunately the sphere puts Harry into a deep sleep, and he awakens to enlighten us only after we too have begun to doze.

At the last moment, the somnolent Harry delivers an intriguing theory of the relationship between our own fears and perceived reality. In a fatal miscalculation by the writers, this theory that explains everything comes too late. It's not much fun to figure the whole thing out on the way home in the car. This movie is a sleeper-as in "a little nap will help you through it."

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h0m

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