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Curtain Call: Robert De Niro is reduced to communicating with his daughter's imaginary friend in 'Hide and Seek.'

Barrel's Bottom

The cruelest month? That would be January, bringer of 'Alone in the Dark' and 'Hide and Seek'

By Richard von Busack

JANUARY, that $1,000-and-under used-car lot of the cinema season, closed with two almost unpreviewed horror films. Just as the good is the enemy of the great, the awful is the friend of the mediocre. Compared to Alone in the Dark, Hide and Seek looks fit, and its gaping narrative sinkholes are filled with gravelly acting. The studios hoped to stick the 12-24s fast with this pair before the word got out. It is will known that 12-24s will turn out to see anything that smells like horror.

Alone in the Dark smells, all right. Seeing it almost literally alone in the dark (there were two other sighing derelicts somewhere out there in the bargain seats) didn't increase its fear factor. This pooch was shot in a bleached, grainy digitaloid stock that looked two steps up from Pixelvision. It recounts the trouble that brews when treasure hunters disturb a sunken chest ditched by the Abkani. You know, the Abkanis—that advanced civilization of Indians who suddenly vanished 10,000 years ago after inscribing some superstitious baloney about a dire force of all-consuming evil? A-C evil is represented by horny-toad-cum-velociraptors who endure a Dumpster-load of big bullets before they do hammy pirouettes ("Alas, I'm hit. Farewell, cruel world—I bid you adieu ...") and then burst into smoke.

Director Uwe Boll (House of the Dead) actually holds a Ph.D. in literature, unlike the self-educated Ed Wood, to whom Boll is being compared unfavorably on the Internet. Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff seem stupefied, but one would prefer to witness the looks on their faces when they got a load of how the special effects came out. An award is due to the female communications officer, who keeps reading off her computer screen (a la Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest): "Electromagnetism of this scale—I've never seen anything like it!" And then, later: "It's practically off the charts! This is unprecedented."

Hide and Seek bears a plot so old that even the Abkanis would be able to predict the ending. A psychiatrist (Robert De Niro) must discover the truth about the mysterious friend named "Charlie" who is haunting his daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning); this murderous Charlie has access to their house and, for some reason, only materializes when De Niro is asleep. The film's one surprise is Fanning. Sometimes insufferable actors find the right part and are transformed—was it narrating the Henry Darger documentary In the Realm of the Unreal that has made Fanning, at last, watchable? She might as well be starring in Emily Is Strange.com: The Movie. Seeing Emily torment her father with oddball drawings and cryptic comments is funny, if not quite spooky. And De Niro is most at home when he's driven to the warpath. The films he has been performing in lately in would inflame anyone's rage. Still, Hide and Seek's electromagnetism is quite precedented and on the charts.

Alone in the Dark (R; 96 min.), directed by Uwe Boll, written by Elan Mastai, Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer, photographed by Mathias Neumann and starring Christian Slater, plays valleywide. Hide and Seek (R; 102 min.), directed by John Polson, written by Ari Schlossberg, photographed by Dariusz Wolski and starring Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning, plays valleywide.

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From the February 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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