'Dark City': a Stylish, Entertaining Thriller

We've seen stories like this before. A man discovers he's being hunted for a series of crimes he can't remember. Pursued by a detective and helped by a mysterious doctor, he scrambles to recover his memory and solve the puzzle. His quest leads to a gang of aliens who can change reality through the power of their minds. Soon it's him against them....

What we don't see often is the skill and imagination that "Dark City" brings to this plot. It's a violent movie, and viewers with sensitive psyches (or stomachs) should steer clear. But if hard-hitting action and eye-boggling imagery is your idea of a good time, "Dark City" is the most stylish entertainment around.

All of which is a surprise, considering that it was directed and cowritten by Alex Proyas, whose previous picture - "The Crow" - seemed more interested in music-video trickiness than the sort of dreamlike originality that "Dark City" thrives on. He makes a creative leap here, and it will be fascinating to see how he fares in the "real-world comedy" he's working on now.

Solid acting also helps "Dark City" score its exciting, sometimes unsettling points. Rufus Sewell, a rising star who's also in the vastly inferior "Dangerous Beauty" this season, plays the protagonist with moody charm. William Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland are well-cast as the cop and the doc, respectively, with Jennifer Connelly and Richard O'Brien rounding out the roster.

In the end, though, "Dark City" belongs to the artists who crafted its dark, delirious look, including cinematographer Dariusz Wolski.

* Rated R. Contains graphic violence and a generally dark, disturbing atmosphere.

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