"The Cave" is an over-the-top horror flick with one novel offering: It's shot amid a stunning network of subterranean caverns. While the movie's promoters...

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“The Cave” is an over-the-top horror flick with one novel offering: It’s shot amid a stunning network of subterranean caverns. While the movie’s promoters promise to deliver a never-before-seen creature of unknown origins, it’s the serenity of the largely aquatic underground world framed by majestic stalagmites and serpentine corridors that succeeds in capturing the moviegoer’s attention.

When scientists discover a vast cave system beneath the rugged peaks of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, they enlist the aid of an elite group of cave divers — most of whom look like they’ve just stepped out of the pages of GQ — to guide them in their exploration.

Movie review 1.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

“The Cave,” with Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Daniel Dae Kim, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo. Directed by Bruce Hunt, from a screenplay by Michael Steinberg and Tegan West. 97 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense creature violence. Several theaters.

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Jack (a stoic Cole Hauser) leads this team of cocky spelunkers, an exclusive fraternity of thrill-seekers whose testosterone boils over at the slightest provocation. They grunt phrases like “Respect the cave!” and describe their underwater surroundings with “It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s wet.”

They’re buffed and they move with agility, but the ensemble gives flat, one-note performances. What stands out is the dubious midriff-baring wardrobe of Charlie (Piper Perabo), who scales cliffs in close-to-nothing while her peers don full-body rubber suits.

The insipid dialog lacks even a hint of comic relief, so the audience is grateful when the action quickly kicks into gear. Hauser’s lukewarm performance gets a lift after a near-death encounter with the mysterious monster.

But one of the film’s biggest letdowns is that the vicious beast, seen in the full light of the final scenes, is not such a surprise after all. The creature is simply an amalgamation of monsters we’ve seen before — hardly as menacing as it seemed in the dark.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or jhsu@seattletimes.com