Black Horizon (2003)

Today we have for you a low-budget DVD-release-only action movie about a crisis in space and the band of merry heroes that save the day. It's as bad as you might expect, though it's clear that those involved were at least trying to make something watchable (well, at least profitable).

We open in low-earth orbit on the Rooskie space station Mir where a multinational group of astro/cosmonauts and scientists is busy doing whatever space people do (drinking and carousing, mostly). As a reminder of how pitiful the budget was, the interior sets are barebones and look like sheets of plywood and particle board spray-painted gray. And forget the weightlessness of zero gravity, that shit costs money.

That's a very spacey cordless drill.

There's a dozen or more people up here, and I'm sure they have names and backstories and stuff, but there are only two of them who you really need to know. Ivan the Drunken Cosmonaut has most of the lines and almost all the emotional character development, when he's not continuously pulling on a flask of vodka, that is. The other one is your standard inordinately pretty Hot Scientist Girl who looks like she just stepped out of a fashion shoot but thankfully puts on a pair of glasses when she's doing sciencey stuff. She's (predictably) hopelessly in love with Ivan the Drunken Cosmonaut, which allows us a few scenes of them kissing (strangely the only porn in this stinker).

Ivan the Drunken Cosmonaut with Hot Scientist Girl (hey, cut that out, that's improper workplace behavior!).

The rest of the random crewmen are just penciled-in stereotypes, Slavic guys with bad Rooskie accents and Yakov Smirnov hair, and Americans with bad Boston accents and crewcuts. Trust me, you don't need to know their names, they're all either cannon fodder or completely pointless to the plot. One of my big pet peeves with these types of bad movies is the needlessly huge casts, this is not the Lord of the Rings, no one cares if you have three dozen bit-part actors with two-line speaking roles.

Random Rooskies.

The Americans in the group are working on a super secret awesome ray gun called Prometheus (a prop borrowed from Men in Black). Of course it's preposterous that the Rooskies would let the Americans design a game-changing energy weapon onboard their own space station, the Cold War never really ended, you know. But don't get your hopes up (spoilers!), the Prometheus gun is just a McGuffin, it just flits past in the background for a few scenes and is then largely forgotten after the second act.

Ray Gun.

Drama! A shower of meteors sneaks past the radar and batters the station! Aboard, the camera shakes and shimmies like an old school Star Trek episode and every single electrical panel and fuse box begins fountaining sparks. The station is damaged badly, power is down, and an airlock blows out, sucking a few hapless cosmonauts out to their deaths. This disaster helps winnow down the cast to a more manageable level, so yay for that.

Here come the rocks!

On Earth, NASA readies the shuttle Atlantis for a rescue mission, as it was apparently just sitting around in some hanger on-call for such things. But there's a catch, the Prometheus gun and all the data with it needs some special care so they send along a special guy with special skills. This is McKendrick, a handsome rogue with dreamy eyes and stuff. Of course, he has a background in Black Ops and Counter Intel and Super Spy Stuff, because, you know, it would be pretty lame if your hero was just a guy who ran a newspaper stand and never did anything in his whole life more adventurous than riding the Twister Coaster at Worlds-of-Fun last summer.

McKendrick, played by some German guy who was apparently the Teutonic Justin Timberlake back in 2003.

McKendrick is not an astronaut, but after a single ten minute ride in a fighter jet where he barfs on himself after a few barrel rolls, he's stamped "NASA Approved for Shuttle Operations". This is only worth mentioning because the stock footage plane they take off in is an F-16, but the stock footage plane they actually fly around in is an F-14, which looks nothing like an F-16.

Tomcat, baby!

We now meet Atlantis' crew. There's (of course) the requisite Way-too Hot Female Pilot with a chip on her shoulder who will warm up to the hero by the second act because he does something awesome and chicks are stupid like that. There's also a semi-famous black rapper playing a mission specialist who has a few lines. Not to sound un-PC or anything, but with his prison-grade tattoos, strutting walk, and straight-outta-Compton accent, he looks more like a nightclub bouncer than a NASA scientist.

Pilot Chick and Black Guy.

The mission commander is a big, burly studmuffin played by b-movie habitual offender Michael Dudikoff, who is our movie's kinda sorta co-hero-ish guy, along with McKendrick. Despite getting top-billing, he's given surprisingly little to do here, mostly just dialogue scenes, which is not what Michael Dudikoff is known for (he's known for kicking faces and dressing like a commando and stuff).

"God, I wish I could stab a ninja or something."

They bond pretty quick, as it's clear from this movie that all NASA astronauts are just like 1980's jocky Top Gun fighter pilots, and not well-educated rocket scientists and college professors, and all it takes is some macho displays of badassery and some poignant tales of unresolved dreams to get everyone back-slapping and grunting in tune. So they blast off in a mix of stock footage from both Atlantis and Discovery and head off to rendezvous with the crippled Rooskie station. The shuttle cockpit set is pretty detailed, much more detailed than you would expect from this cheapass production company, so it wasn't a surprise when I found out it's a set borrowed from the last Austin Powers movie.

Nice helmet.

They reach the station and there's some drama about locking on and the Atlantis ends up getting damaged and is unusable for evacuation. So they have to rely now on the Mir's untested escape capsules, which are repurposed 1960's Apollo capsules, I think. You know, I have to admit that around this point I kinda lost interest and went to get some toaster pizzas and watch an old Curious George rerun with my son. By the time I got back to Black Horizon it seemed like the shuttle crew and the station crew had hashed out their differences and were working fairly well together on an escape plan. But first they have to fix some broken stuff and save Ivan the Drunken Cosmonaut and Hot Scientist Girl, who are stranded in another part of the station. A lot of this revolves around welding stuff, and luckily McKendrick used to be a "salvage diver" for the US Navy (imagine the odds!). So he welds some plates over the blown-up airlock in the vacuum of space with zero training, because welding in space is just like welding underwater. And to do so he has to EVA along the Mir's pressure hull for a while after fifteen seconds of training. The suits are excellent, by the way, and I'm sure they cost a fortune to rent from the prop company.

Hope they have air conditioning.

Time is at an essence as Mir's orbit is degrading fast and it's just a matter of hours before it reenters the atmosphere and blows up. Poor Mir, Hollywood's been pretty rough on it, blasting it in Armaggeddon, blowing it up in Virus, and generally trashing in countless low-budget direct-to-Blockbuster-shelves movies (like this one). No wonder the Rooskies de-orbited it, they were tired of the jokes.

Well, maybe it doesn't really look like Mir after all...

So the dead weight of Atlantis is dragging them down faster, and since it's useless to them, they set it on autopilot and cast it off. Wait, what? Ivan the Drunken Cosmonaut steals it and rides it down like Slim Whitman to a fiery death? Why? I get "noble sacrifice" and all, but there was no need for that, and his girlfriend was super hot. This scene, by the way, filmed in early 2003, was unfortunately so similar to the tragic loss of the shuttle Columbia about the same time, that this movie's release was delayed for nearly a year to avoid the bad press.

'Tis hot!

Anyway, they have to use the escape capsules now, if only they had the access codes...but, hey, Ice-T has them! Oh, yeah, Ice-T, he's in this movie, isn't he? There's this whole ground story going on in the background of our space disaster movie, one staring Ice-T and a bunch of no-name actors in ill-fitting suits reading cue cards. Ice-T plays a brilliant, if flawed, NSA agent (sure) who starts out chasing some Rooskie evil guys who want to sabotage the space station to destroy the Prometheus, but eventually that plotline peters out and he just ends up shooting and cussing a lot.

Ice-T's so badass even his shadow looks like his dick.

Ice-T, who made this over a couple weekends while on break from Law and Order: SVU, does what he does best, namely shooting people and delivering quippy one-liners about ho's the 'hood. When he's forced to stand and deliver meaty chunks of meaningful exposition, however, that's when his limitations as an actor become apparent. Luckily for us all, he's gunning and punching more than he's talking.

They never let him shoot anyone on SVU.

Only the evil Rooskie businessman has the access codes for the Mir's escape pods for some reason, so Ice-T has to shoot up the joint to get them back. So after a gunbattle in a sleazy motel, a discourse on international trade treaties in a parking lot, and a car chase through a Christmas tree farm in a Volvo station wagon, he gets the access codes and makes it to the Johnson Space Center just in the nick of time. I wish I was making all that up.

Saving the day.

With the escape pods working, the surviving space guys and gals pile in and blast off for Tatooine as Mir explodes behind them (the FX budget seems have been mostly spent on a few seconds of the pods flying through space with a "whooshing" sound). Dudikoff flies his capsule down, because if you can fly an American space shuttle, of course you can fly a Russian escape capsule.

Quick, R2, into the pod!

There's some forced drama about their reentry, predictably about a communications lapse and some flamey things, but both capsules survive and splash into the ocean for recovery. A couple minutes of stock footage of the Apollo 8 landing, plus a rented helicopter flying around the end of the Santa Monica pier dressed up to look like an aircraft carrier, and our heroes are safe and sound. The stinger is pretty lame, as the press mob our cast and they have a chance to mug for the cameras a bit. Dudikoff makes some allegedly humorous quip about sex and they all leave laughing. Whatever, I'm going back to Curious George now.


The End.

Written in April 2011 by Nathan Decker.

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