The marketing campaign for Ridley Scott’s visually magnificent sci-fi thriller “Prometheus” is all but alien-free.
Yet the new 3-D film is so clearly related to the director’s 1979 masterwork “Alien” we half-expect Sigourney Weaver to show up as her own granny.
Instead, we have the charismatic Noomi Rapace (Sweden’s original girl with the dragon tattoo) undertaking the requisite monster-mashing, and Michael Fassbender, looking like a life-size Ken doll, as the sort of deviously solicitous android portrayed by Ian Holm in 1979.
No one could blame Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and “Lost” creator Damon Lindelof for running from the franchise’s increasingly dumb sequels. Really, “Alien vs. Predator?”
But the film’s killer “Alien” genes (including design that references Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger’s groundbreaking original work), is the most effective immunity against the hamfisted philosophizing that Lindelof carries over from his “Lost” days.
“You must feel like your God abandoned you,” snipes Fassbender’s robot as the human body count mounts.
His target is Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, an archeologist whose scientific training coexists with her faith. The cross she wears around her neck wouldn’t get more screen time in a vampire movie.
The year is 2093. Shaw is aboard the Prometheus, a space cruiser funded by a dying gazillionaire after ancient cave drawings provide a road map to humankind’s far-off creators.
In a brief, gorgeous prologue, “Prometheus” shows a pale-skinned, oversize humanoid traversing a young, harsh Earth. As his saucer hovers overhead, the E.T. sips a dark liquid and disintegrates, seeding Earth with his DNA.
Few aboard Prometheus share Shaw’s enthusiasm for meeting their makers, and for good reason. The cavernous, underground space station they find is littered with humanoid bones, and something very creepy lurks about.
What happens next isn’t so much about to whom, but in what order: The plain-spoken captain (Idris Elba)? The abrasive geologist (Sean Harris)? The icy boss (Charlize Theron)?
“Prometheus” amps up everything that made “Alien” work. But bigger and louder isn’t always better. An overbearing musical score replaces the older movie’s eerie quiet, and the once-shocking, chest-bursting alien is mostly just disgusting when it pops up during a very graphic C-section.
As for those ponderous Big Questions about faith and reason, the answers will have to wait until the bluntly telegraphed sequel.
“Prometheus,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)
Diane is a conservative Manhattan lawyer, all fight. When her husband announces he wants a divorce, she gathers their high-school-age son and their college-age daughter and drives them up to Woodstock to see Grace, her mother.
Grace is an unreconstructed hippie who grows pot in her basement, circle-dances when the moon is full and can’t open her mouth without spouting wisdom. (“I prefer not to name animals, they’re nature’s children, not ours.”) Diane has been avoiding her for 20 years.
I wasn’t clear on why Diane chose this miserable moment to make the trip, but her children take to their earth-mother granny at once. This drives Diane nuts. She only starts to melt when Grace produces a manly woodworker to woo her. Both kids have dreamboats waiting for them, too. Woodstock is groovy!
There should be fines for writers who turn out screenplays as hackneyed and predictable as the one for “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.” (Even the title hits the ear with a clink.)
But Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski get away with it, sort of, because Grace and Diane are played by Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, and those two actresses are a blissful mismatch.
Since Keener’s specialty is playing frowning killjoys whose cluelessness is tormenting to them, but funny to the audience, Diane never quite comes off as a harridan. You can’t help rooting for her when she starts to loosen up.
And Fonda is the ideal actress to play a local legend. (“They say Dylan had a thing for her!”) Grace is such a force of nature that she could probably talk Mitt Romney into smoking a joint and posing nude for one of her oils.
The director, Bruce Beresford, has a history of drawing good performances from actors (in “Driving Miss Daisy,” for example).
And I have to grant the writers something: Keener and Fonda wouldn’t have kept cracking me up if there hadn’t been something in their ridiculous lines for them to work with.
I have no such reservations about the costume designers. They’ve outfitted the cast for a hippie Halloween party -- bright vests, tie-dye, beads. They deserve jail time.
“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding,” from IFC Films, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Seligman)
Self-centered, lazy and with the social graces of an angry eighth grader, 35-year-old Abe (Jordan Gelber) lives with his parents, works (or occupies a desk) at dad’s office and keeps track of every penny his mom owes him for their nightly backgammon games.
Abe, the heart of Todd Solondz’s touching sad-sack comedy “Dark Horse,” can be exhausting company.
His chance at salvation is Miranda (Selma Blair), a pretty, heavily medicated city refugee whose depression has led her to the sanctuary of her own childhood bedroom. She’s smarter than Abe, certainly better looking, but (possibly) within his emotional league.
Solondz has walked these lonely streets before -- Abe could be the spiritual older brother of nerdy Dawn “Wiener Dog” Weiner in the director’s 1996 breakthrough “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”
But “Dark Horse,” cruelly sharp and poignant, is narrower and less memorable than Solondz’s recent films, especially the ensemble tragi-comedies “Happiness” and “Life During Wartime.”
“Dark Horse,” from Brainstorm Media, is playing in New York. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Lewis Lapham on books.