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Ship floats better than movie

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2006

“Poseidon”

Warner Bros.

1 hour, 38 minutes

Wow. I don’t know where to begin; how to put the experience into words. I’ve typed and retyped this lead a dozen times. How do you encapsulate a movie this grand, this bold, with such a capable cast and crew; a movie with a budget twice that of the average Hollywood film and a plot line so rife with ironic analogies. It “sinks?” Dunks? Slips too slowly beneath the icy waters of the competitive summer moviegoing season, drowning both audiences and investors alike? Nah. Too wordy. I need something nice and simple. Hmmmm. How about this: It sucked.

If “Poseidon,” directed by the usually reliable Wolfgang Petersen, isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year, it’s easily the worst movie I’ve seen that wasn’t already destined to be bad. I mean, it’s not like this is “Benchwarmers.”

A remake of the joyfully cheesy 1970s classic disaster flick “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Poseidon” begins far at sea, aboard a huge floating palace full of vaguely important people eager to usher in the new year in style. What year? What sea? And who are all the people, anyway? No time for that, because just about 10 minutes into the festivities, a giant rogue wave comes hurtling along and knocks the Poseidon flat. Or flipped, to be more accurate.

Bobbing upside-down in the icy seas, the passengers trapped in air pockets throughout the ship know it’s only a matter of time before the Poseidon takes a final trip to Davy Jones’ locker, precipitating a desperate scramble through the bowels of the boat to get to the bottom (now the top, get it?) and out to safety. The hard-scrabble band of survivors is a cornucopia of cultures, written, I suppose, in the belief that moviegoers want Poseidon adventurers who look like “America.”

There’s the ex-mayor, his preppie daughter, and soon to be son-in-law. There’s the gay architect who sagely announces, “We better get out of here, boats weren’t meant to float upside down.” Thank you for that expert advice. There’s the ’70s-era creep (named Lucky Larry; lucky us!), the black captain, the illegal immigrant, the Hispanic cook and the everyday housewife with cute-little-boy in tow. And, last but not least, there’s the reluctant hero, a degenerate gambler who protests that he can only save himself and then spends the next two hours putting himself in harm’s way for others.

Will they make it? Will you make it? Only time will tell, but I think my mood was best summed up by my buddy who endured the movie with me. After the fifth or sixth egregious filmic offense, he turned to me and declared, “OK. That’s it. I’m rooting for the water.”

What was so bad about this movie? Just about anything nontechnical. Granted, the special effects are pretty good, as is the sound and cinematography, etc. But the writing is abysmal, and the acting isn’t much better. Those two key elements add up to the biggest problem a movie like this can have. I didn’t believe it for a minute.

Nothing seemed real. For one, the horror of the situation is given very little punch. I mean, here we have a boat with literally thousands of dead bodies, most of whom died gruesomely, and our plucky band of survivors pay them almost no attention. Conveniently, none of the survivors actually loses anyone in the initial disaster, so that helps with detachment.

Actually, the illegal immigrant does lose her companion, but it’s suggested that he may have been providing passage on the boat in exchange for sex, so I guess it’s not so bad that he’s gone. Almost no attention is given to character development. Granted, this isn’t some quirky independent film or a Jane Austen adaptation. It’s a disaster movie. But where’s the disaster if you don’t care whether the characters live or die? Or worse, if you’re actually eagerly anticipating their death?

There is minimal exposition given about Kurt Russell’s character, delivered by Lucky Larry, no less, but that’s about it. Otherwise, they’re all blank slates, little more than stereotypes.

Oh, Richard Dreyfuss, why? I certainly don’t object to a gay character, but I do object to a pointless token one. I was almost as embarrassed watching him hit on the Hispanic cook (in the midst of a death-defying stunt) as I was for Harrison Ford in the odious “Hollywood Homicide.”

There are countless other problems with this film that I could go through, but I think you get the point. Suffice it to say that within minutes, “Poseidon” shows its true colors. I will address one last issue, the rogue wave.

For me this was a laugh-out-loud moment. It seemed completely ridiculous, so I looked it up, and, to my surprise, it’s a real phenomenon, the most famous instance of which did occur on New Year’s Day, 1995. OK, OK, so it’s possible for a giant wave to appear out of nowhere, in the middle of the ocean, and capsize a jumbo cruise-liner.

It’s also possible for Josh Lucas to torpedo a promising career. It’s possible that Wolfgang Peterson will remind us all that, in addition to “Das Boot,” he also directed “Enemy Mine,” and “Troy.” And it’s possible for a big-budget disaster remake that looked like a no-brainer to be awash with idiocy and crash full-on into the iceberg of poor filmmaking. Grade: D.

“Poseidon” is rated PG-13 for violence, disaster mayhem and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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