The Cave

Late summer means two things: Everyone has finally seen whatever the big blockbuster was, so it’s safe to talk about the ending (Anakin totally gets burned up by lava); and a mediocre horror film will be dumped into theaters a week or so before Labor Day.

This year the honors go to “The Cave,” a yawning load about a group of pretty explorers who get stuck in an underground labyrinth where they are preyed upon by a beast of some kind. It is not unlike “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” (release date: Aug. 27, 2004), which had essentially the same plot and even shared a cast member, Morris Chestnut.

We begin 30 years ago in what is helpfully described as “Cold War Romania,” though what other kind of Romania there was 30 years ago, and why the Cold War is even relevant to the story, I don’t know. Anyway, some scruffy Europeans dig themselves into a cave hidden beneath an ancient church, and are never heard from again. Good for them.

In the present day, the site is excavated again, this time by the vaguely foreign Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures). One of his associates says, “We’re going to need cave divers,” and Dr. Nicolai replies, “I know just who to call.” (Who, Dr. Nicolai? Cave divers?)

Sure enough, he calls cave divers. Led by the handsome-but-dull Jack (Cole Hauser), they are an elite team of expert swimmers, divers, rock-climbers and general spelunkers. Jack’s hot-shot brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian) is on the team, as is an Australian guy (Kieran Darcy-Smith), an all-American guy (Rick Ravanello), a hot blonde rock-climber (Piper Perabo), and a black guy (Morris Chestnut). They join Dr. Nicolai in Romania and, accompanied by him and his pretty scientist lady friend Katherine (Lena Headey) and her photographer (Daniel Dae Kim), they head into the abyss to see what’s down there.

You can guess what’s down there: monsters. Or animals. Creatures of some kind, anyway, and they’re hungry and vicious and they pick people off one by one. They seem to be amphibious, too. Whether our heroes are in the water or on dry land in one of the many underground caves, they are easy prey for the Alien-like beasts. In fact, as we discover from Piper Perabo’s best line — “They fly! They friggin’ fly!” — the monsters can also fly. They’ve evolved pretty well for a species that lives in total darkness at the top of a food chain that includes no other flying animals.

If I seem more interested in the creatures than in the humans, please don’t misunderstand: The creatures are boring, too. It’s just that they get more screen time than, say, Morris Chestnut, who is present for about 11 seconds total. And it’s not because he dies early, either. They just introduce his character and then let him wander off for a while. Maybe Chestnut had to leave the set for a few days and they just kept shooting without him.

The script (by newbies Michael Steinberg and Tegan West) has people shouting lines like “What the hell’s going on?!” and “There’s something in the water!” a lot, and Bruce Hunt’s direction during the action scenes is jittery and chaotic. There’s nothing scary about blurry things jumping around the screen while people holler, and there’s nothing surprising about teams of explorers being killed one at a time in a remote location. So without “scary” and “surprising,” what is “The Cave” left with? Flying amphibian monsters. Which are great things to have in a movie, I’ll grant you, but not by themselves.

D+ (1 hr., 37 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, some violence.)