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click to enlarge HERE COMES THE SUN: A international crew of astronauts tries reigniting the sun in Sunshine. - Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures
HERE COMES THE SUN: A international crew of astronauts tries reigniting the sun in Sunshine.

In the proverbial not-too-distant-future, the earth is dying and humankind's last, best hope for survival lies with a small crew of astronauts strapped to a Manhattan-sized nuke aimed at reigniting our dying sun. That's the premise of Sunshine, the new science-fiction film from Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Millions, Trainspotting), a director who never met a genre he couldn't bend.

Sunshine cruises along in fine style during its first hour, mixing semi-hard science, artsy atmosphere and action while beefing itself up with choice references to sci-fi's past such as 2001 (the cool, deadpan computer running the ship might be HAL's long-lost sister), Solaris, Alien, Silent Running and even the seriously underrated Event Horizon. As the ship hurls toward the sun, Boyle and frequent screenwriting partner Alex Garland put the sweaty crew through a series of catastrophic challenges, each responded to with a minimum of hysteria or sentimentality, meanwhile giving us plenty of cool visuals to gawk at and a touch of Tarkovsky-ian metaphysics to mull over. There's even the odd political nudge-and-wink, with the one American member of the ship's international crew occasionally coming off as a wannabe action hero consumed with notions of democracy and "completing the mission."

Boyle throws a lot of balls in the air and juggles them all with considerable skill right up until the film's final act, when everything comes crashing to earth with a terrible thud. Sunshine cross-fertilizes itself with one genre too many in its last half-hour, eventually settling for the cheapest sort of thrills by transforming itself into a serial-killer-in-space flick that seems to come from left field and goes nowhere.

Up until that point, the film's flirtation with visuals bordering on the abstract has been one of its strong suits, but once the monster crawls out of its interstellar closet and starts chasing everyone around, it simply becomes a pain trying to decipher what's going on.

Sunshine (R) Stars Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cliff Curtis, Benedict Wong and Troy Garity. Opens July 27 at local theaters. 3 stars

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