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Thursday, May 7, 2009


A Sci-Fi Channel original movie is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're gonna get, or just how nutty it's gonna be. THE LOST TREASURE OF THE GRAND CANYON (2008) is not only nutty as hell, but it's so hard to swallow that Forrest Gump would've choked on it.

Shannen Doherty stars as a 19th-century archeologist named Susan Jordan (who is anachronistically referred to in the DVD's captions as "Ms. Jordan"). Susan is following in the footsteps of her father--literally, in fact, since he disappeared on an expedition in the American southwest and she's on the hunt for him. Dr. Jordan (Duncan Fraser) was searching for an Aztec pyramid that's supposed to be hidden out there somewhere, and Susan enlists the aid of her colleagues in her search. The trail leads them to a grand canyon, just like the title says, only it isn't THE Grand Canyon since this was filmed in British Columbia.

Finding a passageway into the hidden canyon, the group encounters a hostile tribe of Aztecs who seem to be constantly sacrificing people to appease their horrible flying serpent god. These Aztecs are a motley bunch with pallid skin, cottage cheese thighs, and big butts, and they wear the same kind of flip-flops that you get out of a bin at Wal-Mart, but Shannen and her pals have their hands full fighting them off while struggling through a series of low-grade cliffhanger perils. These include trying to get through a booby-trapped doorway without being decapitated by the spring-loaded axe, falling into a pit where they must avoid getting beaned by a spiked ball on a chain, and, in one of the lamest suspense scenes ever, attempting to pull two of their group out of a large puddle of quicksand by poking sticks at them.

Shannen Doherty is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth to be playing this sort of ingenue role, especially when we (along with the male leads) are supposed to be titillated by the sight of her sponging off in a creek. "Stargate SG-1" alumnus Michael Shanks fares a bit better as Shannen's secret admirer Jacob Thain, a hands-off archeologist who'd rather stay in his tent than pick up a shovel but who turns out to be quite courageous and resourceful when the chips are down. Another familiar face, JR Bourne, does well as the cowardly Langford. Heather Doerksen ("Stargate: Atlantis", THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) plays one of those irritating frontier feminists whose character gets sillier as the movie goes on, along with the script.

LOST TREASURE wants to offer up the same excitement and thrills as an Indiana Jones or Ricochet O'Connell adventure, but it just doesn't have the budget or the talent to pull off anything that comes close. Sparse production values and really bad CGI conspire to give the film a consistently bargain-basement look (shots of the canyon's interior are particularly cheesy), which is compounded by slipshod direction from LAWNMOWER MAN 2's Farhad Mann and some of the worst handheld camerawork I've ever seen. And since it's a Sci-Fi Channel original, you just know there's going to be a CGI creature--in this case, the Aztec serpent god--that's considerably less than convincing.

The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image and Dolby 5.1 sound are good. The sole bonus feature is a "making-of" short that lasts about twelve minutes and consists mainly of cast interviews.

I try not to judge low-budget made-for-TV flicks too harshly, especially if they have that elusive "so bad it's good" quality that can make a lesser effort fun to watch. However, THE LOST TREASURE OF THE GRAND CANYON is, for me, simply boring and a chore to endure. The cast is pretty game, but the filmmakers just don't seem to be trying any harder than they have to.

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