The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Barry Levinson

REVIEWED: 02-23-98

With Ice Cube's directorial debut, The Players Club, upcoming and Sphere, Barry Levinson's adaptation of Michael Crichton's science-fiction bestseller Cube now in the theaters, this year is well represented by three-dimensional geometric shapes. If Sphere is any indication, however, this is not a good trend. Levinson's first venture into the genre is plodding and dreary, a waterlogged hodge-podge of Alien, The Forbidden Planet, and Crichton's own The Andromeda Strain.

The military, having discovered a huge spacecraft at the bottom of the Pacific, wants to penetrate the hull and make contact with whatever life forms might be inside, so it gathers a team of experts: Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), a neurotic psychologist; Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), a skittish biochemist; Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), a sardonic mathematician; Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber), a nerdy astrophysicist; and Barnes (Peter Coyote), the enigmatic team leader. As long as Levinson sticks to easygoing interaction à la Diner, Sphere is amusing enough. (My favorite lines, quoted out of context, are "Follow the Yellow Brick Road!" and "I need a last name for my report.") But when it comes to action, special effects, and suspense, he should stick to wagging the dog. The concept is intriguing -- it's that alien-within-being-more-terrifying-than-the-alien-without thing again, with Hoffman adding a twist by reprising his Outbreak romantic situation with Stone -- but the plot unfolds with the dramatic structure of a Rolodex. Long before Sphere dithers to its forgettable climax it's become as flat as a pancake.

--Peter Keough

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Other Films by Barry Levinson
Liberty Heights
Wag the Dog

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