The Relic

on January 10, 1997 by Christine James
   Despite some cliche dialogue, sloppy editing, unanswered questions and unfulfilled potential, "The Relic" is still a pretty good thriller as far as keeping the tension and body count high. Penelope Ann Miller ("The Shadow") plays a sassy evolutionary biologist in a museum that's the scene of a grisly murder; Tom Sizemore ("Strange Days") is a sardonic, no-bull police lieutenant investigating the crime. Together, they discover that a shipment of artifacts from Brazil has brought a mythical monster into their midst. Interesting genetic postulations are put forth but not sufficiently developed.
   For example, the observance that in evolution there are periods of radical changes in which mutant creatures suddenly emerge would have been more effective had they cited and illustrated true-life examples; they are in a museum research lab, which would be rife with information and pictures. This would have intrigued the intellect while solidifying the comprehension and believability of the storyline, which instead flounders between lack of credibility and confusion due to an unclear, hurried explanation. And how a decapitated corpse could fall from the ceiling into the middle of a museum charity gala is the unintentional real mystery of the movie.
   Nevertheless, the film is successful in keeping the audience jumping. Within the creepy confines of a museum after hours, darkly lit mummies, dinosaurs and mannequins maintain a spooky mood, and the cheap but effective scare tactic of blaring loud chords of music at tense moments keeps anxiety at the fore. The film's monster is well-rendered but nothing new; though it possesses the traits of several different animals and therefore looks and moves somewhat differently than other famed celluloid creatures, it's still the same general assemblage of saliva-dripping jaws, reptilian tendrils and massive, scaly flesh audiences are all accustomed to.
   After nearly two hours of playing bloodsucking-beast-and-mouse, the ending is somewhat unsatisfying; a more dramatic climax involving a previously introduced carnivorous breed of insect was obvious but unused. But not-too-demanding fans of suspenseful gory creature features should still be able to sink their teeth into the film. Starring Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore and Linda Hunt. Directed by Peter Hyams. Written by Amy Holden Jones and John Raffo and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Sam Mercer. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for monster violence and gore, and for language. Running time: 109 min
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