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"Stargate' a spacy ride to nowhere

Well, somebody finally devised that non-awaited companion piece to Dune.

Anybody who needs a better reason to dislike science fiction than that David Lynch loser need only travel through the dim dimensions of Stargate, a $50-million redwood crashing in the movie forest.

Director/co-writer Roland Emmerlich (Universal Soldier) mimics Lynch's folly in every way except those giant worms and Sting's gold Speedos; Stargate is a time-warped implosion of baffling space mysticism, a costume budget gone mad, and too much sand for any movie short of Lawrence of Arabia. It's pretty, vacant and pointless; an interactive computer game with which we just don't feel like getting involved.

The trip begins campy enough, with a prologue set in 1928 when a mysterious, giant metallic hubcap is discovered in Egypt. Nobody can identify its origins, or anything else worth staying for in this sepia-soaked set-up, so Emmerlich bolts to the present day, where Egyptologist/linguist/whatever other-skills-he-needs-for-the-plot Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is suggesting outer-space origins of the Pyramids to disbelievers. Except for a mysterious (everything is mysterious in Stargate) woman (Viveca Lindfors) with U.S. Air Force connections.

She leads Daniel to a triple-secret military installation where the hubcap has been stored. Daniel manages to accomplish in days what a battery of experts couldn't since 1928 _ the meaning of these mysterious (I told you) heiroglyphics that may open a gateway to another galaxy, another time or, if everyone's lucky, another movie.

The answer is: another galaxy, and a reconnaisance mission begins under the command of Col. Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell), a soldier so intense his hair stands at attention. They pass through the stargate, realize they can't immediately come back and Daniel must figure out the return access code. Meanwhile, a nuclear bomb Col. O'Neil brought to destroy the new world _ isn't that just like mankind? _ is stolen by the mysterious sun god Ra (or perhaps it's a goddess, since Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game) still isn't dishing out clues.)

Emmerlich only invests these characters with the slimmest characterizations; Daniel's the guy who's allergic to traveling, O'Neil is the one with the dead son, and Ra seems to share a closet with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Their antagonism is so muddled, and the violent solution so sketchy, that you would swear a reel of film is missing.

All this drama is manhandled with vain pretensions of epic grandeur and a few elemental special effects in this post-Jurassic era. There's nothing awesome about a giant Slinky-styled matter transporter, or a bogus-looking interplanetary yak. Stargate even violates the cardinal rule of building a sci-fi cult like Star Wars or Star Trek; there aren't any "hooks," no catchphrases to memorize, and no names for any of the weird people, places or things to toss around in polite conversation at the next collectables convention.

Even Ra's planet is known only by a symbol. Maybe we should just call it "the planet formerly known as Prince."



Grade: D

Director: Roland Emmerlich

Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson

Screenplay: Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerlich

Rating: PG-13, violence, profanity

Running time: 119 min.