Available in video stores this week, Poseidon suffers from a paradoxical problem: the action is too nonstop, but when the characters open their mouths, one wants them to shut up and get moving again. The outcome of this remake of The Poseidon Adventure is never in doubt, of course"”other than which people will survive. Nor is the basic story line, which you do not know only if you have been sealed in a time capsule, the movie having entered into the popular culture's consciousness long since. Still, director Wolfgang Peterson manages to wring enough suspense out of the formulaic plot to keep our attention, a tribute of sorts to his cinematic skill.
Best known for the classic Das Boot (about German submariners) and ,more recently, The Perfect Storm (about New England fishermen), Peterson obviously knows his way around a ship. More surprising is that professional gambler Dylan (Josh Lucas), who certainly knows his way around a poker table, is also an expert in the intricate layout of a giant luxury liner. But then the ex-mayor of New York (Kurt Russell) later calls on his credentials as an ex-fireman to figure out in ten seconds where the controls of that same ship are and how to work them. Go figure.
His daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her fiance, have followed the old man, along with a single mom (Jacinda Barrett), her son (Jimmy Bennett), and a lovelorn gay architect (Richard Dreyfuss, playing against type). Oh, a couple of others tag along, but it wouldn't be fair to tell whether they make it out of the ship. That, after all, is the only question that the remake has to pose, having completely switched around the cast of characters, if not the approach to their development. (Where, the viewer might ask, is Gene Hackman? And what have you done with Shelley Winters and her swimming medal?)
To his credit, Peterson keeps things moving along briskly enough"”perhaps too briskly"”to the very foregone conclusion. (He does add a nice little touch with a second wave, echoing the much larger "rogue wave"¯ that flips the ship on New Year's Eve.) The special effects of water, water everywhere are impressive: in this respect, film art has progressed incredibly since the 1972 original of the present film. The growling onset of the Big Tsunami, the slow-motion results, and the verisimilitude of the following explosions, fires, floodings, etc, go a long way toward maintaining our interest, as does the dizzying work of film editor Peter Hanes. Peterson wisely and continually shifts the viewpoint to the outside, so that we know what the trapped survivors do not.
Unhappily, there's not enough such appeal to produce the blockbuster that the filmmakers were clearly hoping for. The music, for instance, has the same unrelieved forte as the plot, giving us no time to reflect on the characters and their situation"”the sort of move that produces real suspense. Some pretty good actors, such as Andre Braugher, are (literally) wasted early on, and some heavy-handed stereotypes such as Kevin Dillon as gambler "Lucky Larry"¯ are left undrowned too long.
As a disaster film, Poseidon is not as great a disaster as reviews have made it out to be. It's rated "PG-13"¯ for "prolonged sequences of disaster and peril,"¯ but there's not much here to disturb today's subteen. Older folks proceed at your own risk: this is a remake, after all, and you know what that means.