Movie Review: Cube (1997)

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Rating: B-/ As far as I’m concerned, Cube is an amazing premise somewhat undone by a few pretty bad actors. Aside from the weak links in the cast, Cube has creative minimalist sets built on a fairly low budget, intriguing characters each with something interesting to bring to the table, and fascinating shifting dynamics between the leads. There’s something missing, but what’s there makes a pretty good watch for the most part. The director gets points for originality, and making the most out of meager sets and props. With almost nothing, he creates a story that makes you want to keep watching. Too bad some of the actors (I’m looking at you, Maurice Dean Wint) can’t measure up to the film’s mostly high standards. 

The premise of Cube is absurdly simple and fascinating- a diverse group of people wake up in what is essentially a glorified rat maze; a gigantic cubical structure filled with enigmas and deadly traps. The plot is established wordlessly in the film’s opening when an unnamed man (Julian Richings, who, despite his ridiculously short screen time, is portrayed on the film’s cover)  comes to in a room of the cube and tries to make his escape, only to be chopped to bits in a  booby trap. After his regrettable fate we are introduced to a group of the cube’s prisoners, led by Quentin (Wint,) who appears to be the hero.

The structure’s occupants have no idea what they’re doing there and to what purpose; a doctor  (Nicki Guadagni,) a young student gifted at mathematics (Nicole de Boer,) and an Autistic man mistakenly assumed to be developmentally disabled (Andrew Miller) are among those captured. Quentin suspects that a layabout (David Hewlett) who quips that he has nothing live for except his massive porn collection is on the side of their faceless captors, but for the time being he cannot prove it. Tempers rise and people turn against each other, but who’s responsible for the victims’ plight? Meanwhile the group forms a fragile alliance and tries to break away from their deadly prison.

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Yes, there is a lot of iffy dialogue and even iffier acting on display here (although Hewlett and Miller, as the Autistic mathematical genius Kazan, are quite good) but the element that really shines here is the way the characters never really seem to turn out the way they initially appear to be. Quentin seems to be the leading man but gradually reveals himself to be a grade-A asshole, the porn-addicted slacker shows a courageous side, and the disabled man nobody places any faith in, Kazan, turns out to be a valuable asset.

I definitely think Maurice Dean Wint as Quentin was the weak spot in a cast that, as a whole, was not that great to begin with. His role required that he be angry and aggressive for prolonged periods of time and coerce the others in the group, but it’s impossible to take his rages that seriously. He lacks the conviction or the screen presence to be a worrying force, let alone a terrifying one.

I would have liked a little more background on the cube itself  (the reasons behind it were discussed, but decidedly sketchy) and I also wanted a little afterward about the film’s survivor. Seeing them reunited with their family would have provided an emotional kick the film was sorely lacking. As a whole, Cube is definitely brainier than the average matinee, just not as brainy as it thinks it is. It introduces director Vincenzo Natali as a filmmaker with promise, just not enough direction to make this film a complete success. I give this movie B- for having potential and the strength to make us interested in the characters and their ultimate fate.

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