James Spader displays his shockingly buff new physique in ”Supernova,” but that’s about the only noteworthy special effect in this sketchy space opera, pseudonymously directed by Walter Hill (as Thomas Lee). Superficially resembling any number of bleak, humorless direct-to-video sci-fi schlockers, the film unspools so choppily, sans opening credits, that you’ll swear you’ve walked into a showing already in progess.
Spader plays Nick Vanzant, a recovering addict who finds himself piloting the 22nd-century medical vessel Nightingale 229 after its captain (Robert Forster) fails to survive a dimension jump. (In one of the film’s myriad curiosities, Forster, assaying his most prominent role since earning an Oscar nod for 1997’s ”Jackie Brown,” gets his face melted off within 20 minutes.)
After the crew answers a distress call from an abandoned lunar mine, a hunky scavenger named Larson (Peter Facinelli) — who appears to be the son of the junkie ex-lover of the ship’s doctor (Angela Bassett), really — comes aboard with his find, a Flubbery glowing purple mass. Is it a priceless alien artifact, a hallucinogenic oracle, or a life-regenerating bomb? And just how does it contribute to Larson’s eventual case of intergalactic ‘roid rage?
The answers are revealed in a series of oddly perfunctory scenes shot mostly in tight close-up with an unsteady cam and befouled by an intrusive, fillings-tingling score — all of which lends the entire enterprise a chintziness that belies its reported $60 million budget. Almost as peculiar is the constant stripping down and suiting up of the better-than-expected cast (including Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney, and, as a fey engineer, Wilson Cruz), whose occasional nude couplings suggest a different, racier movie that didn’t make it to the screen.
It’s no surprise director Hill, who replaced original helmer Geoffrey Wright (”Romper Stomper”) shortly before production, removed his name after MGM reportedly had Jack Sholder (”The Hidden”) and then Francis Ford Coppola reedit the picture. What’s left is a frustrating jumble of logic leaps, impenetrable technobabble, rote action, and not one distinctive F/X set piece.
The film’s print ads and posters scream ”All Hell Is About to Break Loose.” Yeah, maybe at MGM’s marketing meetings.