July 25-31, 2007

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20th Century Fox and Dune Entertainment LLC
All's flare in love and space wars: Cliff Curtis aims for the nearest star in 'Sunshine.'

Solar Perplexus

'Sunshine' fails to illuminate Danny Boyle's murky ideas about the future of humanity

By Richard von Busack

EVEN Ray Bradbury couldn't make a classic out of the solar-voyage tale (see his short story "The Golden Apples of the Sun"), and the increasingly incoherent, mucilaginously spiritual space opera Sunshine by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, et al.) orders you to try to make sense out of it. Oddly, this weird picture—destined to become a cult classic for its visuals—functions most usefully as a haunted space-ship horror pic, complete with a sun demon clawing up the cast. In the near future, the sun has shirked its traditional responsibilities. A ship unluckily named Icarus II follows the course of a lost predecessor in hopes of plopping a Manhattan-size atomic bomb in the sun's center. The scenario will make a few scientists squawk, which is why 20th Century-Fox hired astronomer Dr. Brian Cox to mollify them, as well as what's left of the working press. Cox notes that "as yet undiscovered objects could still be flying through the universe today. It is just possible that these objects could cause havoc if they drift into the heart of a star."

A more likely scenario is that the men of the year 2057 will be just as much a pain in the butt as the men of today. Squabbling among the handpicked crew has already broken out; the worst of it goes on between engineer Ace (Chris Evans, a flaming hot-head just as he is in the Fantastic Four movies) and the ship's physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy, with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun). Trying to intervene is Cassie (Rose Byrne), whose function aboard the ship is mysterious; press notes describe her as "the other woman in the crew." We also get the obviously sacrificial captain (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the ornery gardener Corazon (Michelle Yeoh). Off they go, getting closer to the sun, shaded behind a mile-wide metal parasol; stuff breaks, the chafed nerves of the gang worsens. Perhaps most disturbing is the ship's doctor (Cliff Curtis), who seems to be reverting to solar worship on the observational deck. And then the signal arrives of the discovery of the hulk of the Icarus 1, which is still in orbit and waiting to be investigated.

Sunshine is inept science fiction, but it has images in its favor, especially the golden solar eye staring down at the crew. John Murphy and Underworld's ambient noises on the soundtrack further recommend this movie to a drug-fancying audience. Boyle and writer Alex Garland touch on today's messes in the no-quarter battle between the religious view of man as dust in the (solar) wind and the idea of humans as the master of their destiny. Any good ideas Garland has—besides the ones he harvested from other pictures, such as the blatantly plagiarized sequence from Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars—are quickly undone by Boyle's visual style. He indulges in the usual overcranked attack: quick unreadable cuts, solar flares blinding the lens. Sunshine is full of the stoned insistence that it doesn't matter who is where or where they're all going. Possibly Boyle's scheme is legible during the 20th viewing on home DVD, but on a movie screen it's a botch, unless you're the kind of viewer who, like the hippie in the anecdote, likes to stare at the sun until your retinas fry.

Movie Times Sunshine (R; 107 min.), directed by Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland, photographed by Alwin H. Kuchler and starring Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh, opens July 27 at selected theaters.

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