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Sunshine *½

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Murphy and crew go crazy from the heat in
Danny Boyle's epic miscalculation, Sunshine.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans. Rated R.

Having explored the darkest corners of the soul in 28 Days Later, and the chilly, drugged-up desolation of Glasgow in Trainspotting, Danny Boyle could use a little light in his life. There’s plenty to be found in Sunshine, his tale of space-traveling saviors on a mission to resuscitate the failing heart of the solar system, but perhaps Boyle caught a few too many rays. The closer he gets to the sun, the more he loses his nerve, reducing a tense, unpredictable thriller to a needlessly bloody, pseudo-spiritual mess.

Aesthetically, the film is at times a majestic spectacle. Bathed in flashes of searing, resplendent light, Sunshine offers a visual feast in the absence of substance, though screenwriter Alex Garland keeps the plot lean and the atmosphere taut and claustrophobic until he and Boyle run out of ideas.

The earth, we learn, is trapped in a permanent winter that threatens to extinguish mankind unless a team of astronauts, led by a brilliantly blue-eyed physicist (Cillian Murphy), can detonate a nuclear device near the sun’s gaseous (and suddenly lukewarm) core. It’s a premise preposterous enough to warrant comparison with the likes of Deep Impact, Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow, but Boyle keeps the story more or less grounded until switching gears and unleashing an unconquerable bogeyman, complete with a God complex, on his unsuspecting cast.

While Kubrick embraced space as a frontier of limitless possibility and a window into the souls of men, Boyle’s vision is far less ambitious. Early on, Sunshine bears the promise of a film driven by wonder and imagination, the urge to explore a world untouched by man, but soon its creative energy simply flames out.

By the time the crew of Icarus II discovers, in a depressingly familiar twist, that a demented killer has boarded their ship, Sunshine has already collapsed into a mess of clichés borrowed not from sci-fi standard-bearers like 2001 or even Alien, but from lackluster retreads like Event Horizon and Deep Star Six.

It’s a stunning disappointment, really – Boyle has always put his own twist on even the most well-worn material, whether dealing with flesh-hungry zombies or homicidal housemates. Not here. Sunshine is a copout, a rare misstep for a director who, just this once, settles for shortcuts rather than plumbing the depths of his own vivid imagination.

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