Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Relic (1997)

Museums were never so loud, greedy or deadly

A man named John Whitney (Van Bergen) is taking photos of an indigenous ceremony in front of a fire, headed by a small statue. The natives boil up part of a plant and he drinks out of a bowl. The anthropologist runs to a ship and demands crates destined for the National History Museum in Chicago be instead taken off, except the Captain is on a schedule and refuses. Whitney sneaks onto the ship only to find after all that huff and puff they accidentally left off his cargo at the loading dock anyway. Six weeks later the ship arrives from Brazil to Chicago, except everyone is at first missing and there's blood found. A Lieutenant D'Agosta (Sizemore) is called on the scene from Chicago Homicide and figures it had to be a drug hit, only to find dismembered bodies floating in the hull below.

One week later at the History Museum in the windy city and another scientist named Dr. Margo Green (Miller) inspects the crates with nothing found inside but packing leaves and the same statue from the beginning now with the name of "Kothoga": a god that's supposed to be the son of Satan, which at first isn't taken with any bit of seriousness. Though there's going to be a Superstition Exhibit at the museum and it might give her the funding she needs after finding out the foundation is delaying Margo's grant. Her rival Greg Lee (Lo) is applying for the same one, despite if she doesn't get it her department is out of work. It's closing time, she's working late, two boys are sneaking about when they see "something" and then a security guard is smoking in the boys room when his session gets cut short--literally. D'Agosta is called in again but he can't put his finger on what the connection to the bodies at the boat is with the exception of a specific portion missing. Some evidence comes his way of what and who might have done it, though his inner detective's intuition is going off as to why and how. Politics get in the way of police procedure and the exhibit is going on as scheduled that night despite his protests that it might not be over. Us regular movie goers know that with a share of running time still left, that character is always right.

The mystery element is a central driving point with tidbits of information spread out that culminates into a climactic showdown involving a packed exhibit and underground tunnel ways. The latter portion of the film is somewhat dark, though it might have been on purpose to watch it with the lights out and also let the loud sound effects and music make one's mind wander into the worst pathways imaginable. This builds up with superstitions coming alive into scientific fact instead of the supernatural: a detective on one side that believes in them, lucky bullet and all, and on the other a scientist who doesn't, a computer to run DNA and everything. It plays on politics and posturing with ambitious people that curb doing it by the book unlike the two self-sacrificing stars. There are some severed heads, neck stumps and gashes in the gore department. The production values are above average--bar some under lit scenes--with large sets and a craning camera to capture the scope. This has CGI creature effects that were somewhat advanced for '97, along with some prosthetics, though the enigmatic entity frequently blends in with the shadows, only adding to its elusiveness.

"The Relic" is an easy but charging popcorn flick with a decent pacing. The dialogue is going to be simplified for amusement (and occasionally dated with jokes that feel a little too scripted and well-timed than being matched to that character in that moment), there are going to be plenty of jump-and-scare, what-was-that shock theatrics, and try-too-hard characters are going to appear with misplaced flair and sarcasm to momentarily charge your senses. They tried to make Tom Sizemore present himself like Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive" at first by rattling off a huge list of demands to look commanding. The overall objective is to put you in the direct moment and not tread back. This isn't a completely mind-numbing experience like other "something"-attacking-people features where what you see is what you get, since there are some interesting revelations here with a solid reason for the onslaught, not to mention all of the genres are utilized with a certain balance. There isn't enough depth to produce massive echoes, though the characters aren't always tripping over their own shoe laces like other films, only to have a single objective to superficially satisfy the gore hounds.

Compared to the engrossing book, this is a much more straightforward version where only the major essentials are targeted and the rest is left behind on the drawing board. Essentially the mythological, scientific and informational side is narrowed down into a succinct fashion and the creature element is pushed to the forefront. It pales in comparison, and I personally remember passing this off because of that, but looking at it again, it was entertaining enough on its own as a separate experience.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Peter Hyams (Outland, 2010, Time Cop)
Stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore, Chi Muoi Lo, Lewis Van Bergen
Link: IMDB

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