The Cave

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Starring Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, and Piper Perabo. Rated 14A. For showtimes, please see page 60

James Cameron's Aliens sure was one kick-ass action-horror flick. It had assured direction, amazing special effects, terrifying monsters-and, of course, Bill Paxton's immortal line as the cocky but cowardly grunt Hudson: "Game over, man. Game over!" But Aliens came out nearly two decades ago, so it's a little late for a movie that just sticks wings on the creatures and moves them from outer space to an underwater cave. Look up pointless in the dictionary and you'll find a movie poster for The Cave.

Paparazzi's Cole Hauser stars as the ruggedly named Jack Cole, leader of a group of thrill-seeking American pro divers who are psyched to learn that grizzled biologist Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) has secured the funding to allow them to explore an underground river discovered beneath a 13th-century abbey in Romania. Before the sexy gaggle of men and women show up at the dive site, much is made of the cutting-edge equipment they'll be using, including scuba tanks that allow divers to stay submerged for up to one full day. But as far as the vicious predators prowling below are concerned, that only means that a new 24-hour swim-through restaurant has opened.

In this type of Aliens rip-off, one manly man has to be dispatched to scout things out and send back erratic video transmissions before becoming lunch, so Cole recruits Briggs (Canuck Rick Ravanello) for the job. In one of The Cave's few surprises, he actually survives the initial foray, but before long the creatures get wise to the interlopers, and the resulting decline in human lives elicits the predictable bickering and backstabbing among the trapped and desperate crew.

Piper Perabo of Coyote Ugly fame riffs on Sigourney Weaver's Ripley character from the Alien films, which means she's one tough monster- battling chick but is only prepared to bare a minimum amount of skin. Australian commercial director Bruce Hunt (second-unit director on The Matrix) does an admirable job of filming the diving sequences, and the actors-who took crash courses in scuba-diving and rock- climbing-tackle their physical roles with gusto. But the explorers-as-fodder premise has been done to (multiple) death so many times-culminating in last year's Alien Vs. Predator debacle-that all the nicely shot underwater footage in the world won't keep you from nodding off during this formulaic retread.