"We're going to go deep on this one," says Cole Hauser in The Cave. In the spelunking sense, The Cave does go deep, though the film's premise is as shallow as an ice tray. The novelty of the authentic-looking spelunking and diving is almost enough to carry an otherwise standard-issue actioner, but now that Hollywood has manufactured enough Alien clones to fill a wall at Blockbuster, who needs another?
The cave makes a good setting for a pick-'em-off creature feature, but it's a slow expedition from the obligatory bury-the-evil prologue to the chaotic, fry-the-monster climax. In Romania's Carpathian Mountains, a group of scientists teams with expert spelunkers to plumb a cave system that will take them a mile below the surface and three miles in. But there's creatures in them thar hills (any suspense on this point is killed by the opening-title credit "Creatures Designed By..."), and they're hungry. The Knights Templar became demon chow in the cave 700 years before, and a group of treasure hunters disappeared into the deep 30 years before, so we know it won't be pretty for the latest adventurers.
It will be pretty for the audience, though, who can enjoy the well-toned cast (Cole Hauser, The Brothers Grimm's Lena Headey, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Piper Perabo, and Lost's Daniel Dae Kim, among others) in their Body Gloves. Hauser and Cibrian play sibling rivals Jack and Tyler, who grow closer in the crucible of crisis. 1 in 14 divers die each year, we're told, though that number understandably climbs when chittering beasties are around. The ill-fated expedition retreads a familiar territory of dramatic beats: considerations of mutiny against a compromised leader, the ill-advised idea of splitting up, braving the elements (tight spaces, vast expanses, fire and ice), and sacrifice of the few for the many.
First-time director Bruce Hunt is no Jim Cameron, despite The Cave's obvious stylistic and narrative fealty to The Abyss (cool depth-of-field shots enhance Ross Emery's fine photography). Hunt gets things off to a slow start, with composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek working overtime to set the mood. Poorly scripted dialogue scenes fail to generate tension, interest, or character: we understand each person's attitude, but little more.
Eventually, adrenalized action gooses the proceedings with dangerous stakes. A few sequences—like one pitting a lone Perabo against one of the creatures—get the pulse going, but poor editing takes the edge off too much of the action. The Cave is certainly better than the last movie about creepy-crawlies attacking in the dark (Alone in the Dark), but that's not saying much. "Respect the cave," warns Chestnut, and I wish I could.