Supernova starts out looking like it could be an Alien rip-off for the 90s, not surprising, since director Walter Hill has had some part in writing the first three films in that series, not to mention producing all four. The action centers, for the most part a medical rescue vessel and its motley crew, which includes Captain Marley (Robert Forster), who always knows best, the low-key ex-druggie pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), the devoted Dr. Evers (Angela Bassett), Benj (Wilson Cruz), a computer technician who has an odd attachment to the ship's computer, and Yerzy and Danika (Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney) a couple who are just...well, there, perhaps for the T&A quotient, as they do have a couple sex scenes. When the ship receives a distress call of bizarre origins: an abandoned mining planet, which, by all rights, shouldn't have anything on it...are we beginning to sound like we're entering familiar territory?
However, soon afterward, the plot veers a bit from the tried and true. Sure, it still stays a bit unoriginal, but at least it takes bits from lots of other films as opposed to one main source from this point on. It may be derivative, but at least it's mixing and matching.
The ship is damaged by a meteor shower, and loses most of its fuel, leaving it at the mercy of the gravitational pull of a blue gas giant. The only means of escape is a dimensional jump. However, for that to work, the device needs to charge. The time need to charge is only 11 minutes less than the time before the ship burns up in the star's heat. Unfortunately, this time limitation, and the impending doom of the crew if the timing isn't right, never becomes an issue. There's never any urgency, no indications (other than occasional offhand comments) of how much time is left. If they're going to put in a plot contrivance like this, they better damn well use it.
Anyway, the crew discovers an escape craft leaving the planet at wildly high speeds. They bring the ship in, and find an enigmatic stranger (Peter Facinelli) with ties to Dr. Evers aboard. He's found a bizarre artifact on the planet's surface, something that he thinks could earn him major bucks. Nick isn't so sure that the thing is safe, and votes to jettison it. However, things aren't what they appear.
The performances in this movie are varied. Spader and Bassett both underplay their characters, and a little too much seriousness to what should be a dopily fun sci-fi film. Don't get me wrong...I love Spader, and I especially enjoyed him here, but almost seperately from the flick itself. Bassett isn't the standout actor that I consider Spader to be, and her portrayal of a troubled doctor is twice as out of place as Spader's.
The rest of the cast understands exactly what kind of movie they're in, and act accordingly. I'm pretty sure that they all figured out that this film was of the direct-to-video variety, and was only getting theatrical release because of Spader and Bassett. Accordingly, they broadly play their characters, not giving them much depth, but allowing them to serve their purpose (which, in many cases, was dying) admirably.
The visual design on this film, with the exception of the dinky, boring bridge, is fairly excellent. There were lots of neat tunnels, corridors, and observation decks to look at, all them with a fairly consistent tone of blue. The artifact is a wonder to behold, and I want one for my room. I'd stick it in the corner, next to my Plan 9 from Outer Space poster.
A few major holes in the plot and one majorly silly scene (one that is supposed to be touching and warm) knock this baby down a few points in my book. Certainly, there are better films out there, but when you come down to it, Supernova is not a bad waste of 90 minutes.