Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber
Maybe filmmakers ought to just stay out of the water. With the exception of James Cameron's Titanic, recent filmic forays into the deep have sucked seaweed, including Cameron's own The Abyss (1989), as well as Waterworld and Speed 2: Cruise Control. Sphere, a soggy sci-fi thriller directed by Barry Levinson and based on a 1987 novel by Michael Crichton, proves another sinker stinker.
Which is doubly disappointing since Sphere, at least for its first half, is an involving, if conventional, film. It begins with a government agency secretly flying four elite eggheads—a psychologist (Hoffman), a biochemist (Stone), a mathematician (Jackson) and an astrophysicist (Schreiber)—to a cruiser in the middle of the South Pacific. A thousand feet below on the ocean floor lies a downed spaceship with possible alien life aboard. The scientific quartet is to serve, as Stone sarcastically puts it, "as the welcome wagon for the aliens." Once the contact team boards the downed ship, they come upon a giant, shimmering gold sphere that looks much like a humongous, gilded golf ball. This sphere is the alien. Or is it? Soon bad things start happening to the team and their support staff (Peter Coyote, Queen Latifah
and Marga Gomez): Increasingly hostile messages flash from a computer screen ("I am going to kill you all"), and jumbo jellyfish and other nasty sea creatures attack.
It's also at about this time that the movie springs a noticeable leak. The main characters start sniping at each other—years ago the Hoffman and Stone characters had a fling that ended badly, and Sphere, briefly, threatens to turn into Fatal Attraction Under Water. Things get murky and, finally, laughably touchy-feely. Hoffman and Jackson come off best here if only because their characters get the most punch lines. Stone has a rockier time of it, having been saddled with a character who often seems to be pointlessly bouncing off the walls. All in all, it's hard to get into the Sphere-it for this one. (PG-13)