Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Starring Maurice Dean Wint, Nicole De Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlitt, Wayne Robson, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings. (1997, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 1998
In 1961 Rod Serling penned a Twilight Zone episode entitled Five Characters in Search of an Exit. Although it's never been one of that series' most popular outings, the tale of five strangers trapped inside a giant cylindrical object with no means of escape and no idea how or why they're even there must have stuck with director Natali because Cube is virtually identical in more ways than one. Like Serling's script, the Canadian-helmed Cube revolves around a quintet of strangers trapped inside an impenetrable mystery: a steel and Lucite cube that looks for all the world like the Cenobite's view off one of Hellraiser's evil puzzle-boxes. Bizarre, seemingly random patterns cover the walls and in the center of each wall sits a sliding portal through which egress can be made. The trick? Some rooms contain deadly booby traps such as whipping razor wire and wall-mounted jets of acid. It's up to the five -- a hair-trigger cop (Wint), a paranoid M.D. (Guadagni), a young mathematics whiz (de Boer), a nihilistic office worker (Hewlett), and a wily ex-con (Robson) -- to figure out which room is which, as well as other suitable topics such as what the hell's going on and why, specifically, they've been cast in alongside each other. Cube opens with some astonishingly gory footage of what not to do when entering an adjoining room, but quickly goes downhill from there. It's an existential, Kafka-esque nightmare with no real resolution, although if you've been biding your time waiting to see some high-strung, ham-handed bickering on-screen, this is your A-ticket. Stagy in the extreme (though not based on a play), the action moves through the variously colored cubes as the characters devolve into parodies of themselves. The cop's steely authority eventually turns to psychotic rage, while the nihilist turns out to have plenty of just cause. Conversations, of which there are many, touch on everything from eco-terrorism to government cover-ups to UFOs, all while providing virtually no backstory about the cube or its inhabitants. Eventually, all of this wears thin, enlivened only by a couple of moderately unassuming turns (de Boer, Miller) and the occasional freshet of gore. By the end of 90 minutes, it comes as no surprise that the “protagonist” turns out to be the most simple-minded of the lot (Miller's idiot savant, who wanders in about a third of the way through), making this a sort of angsty Forrest Gump for the Wired set. Startling at times, but just as equally distant at others, Cube seems to have it all backwards: It's a film in search of a one-act play.