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Poseidon   D+

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Writer: Mark Protosevich (based on the novel by Paul Gallico)
Cast: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Mike Vogel, Mia Maestro, Jimmy Bennett, Andre Braugher.

Review by Rob Vaux

"I've seen this movie. The black dude dies first."
--Harry Block (Orlando Jones), Evolution

Someone please explain to me how Warner Bros. could look at The Poseidon Adventure -- IRWIN FUCKING ALLEN'S The Poseidon Adventure -- and say, "Yeah, that really needs to be remade." Hasn't Western civilization suffered enough? Aren't there more important things to spend their money on, like designer knitting or keeping Britney Spears off the street? What possible function does the newly rechristened Poseidon serve? Director Wolfgang Petersen already did underwater tension with Das Boot, and there's no way he's ever going to top it. James Cameron handled the sinking ship thing 10 years ago (and if you hate Titanic, you have no idea how much worse it gets here). It's not like we've never seen Kurt Russell before and while that Emmy Rossum sure is cute, I hope and pray she's got better scripts lying on her agent's desk. Is this what we've been reduced to? A film whose noise and explosions are separated from the season's other noise and explosions solely by the fact that they're painted blue?

I grant that Poseidon dispenses with the embarrassing pretense to character that Allen detrimentally indulged in. We get a certain amount of background for each of the film's major figures -- gay architects, New York mayors, plucky single moms named Maggie... you know, a cross-section of the American experience -- but we don't linger on them excessively. Poseidon instead focuses on rushing them to and fro while seawater gushes at them from all directions. And that's probably for the best. For what little we see of their personalities is so mind-numbingly trite that the sight of them shutting up and running for their lives comes as a blessed relief. Here's an overprotective dad (Russell) trying to accept his daughter's (Rossum) new boyfriend. There's a precocious kid (Jimmy Bennett) getting into things he shouldn't. Over in the corner are catty couples exchanging flirtatious banter, silly phobias arising at the least opportune time, and incompetent authority figures making all the wrong choices. All of it old, tired, and exasperating to watch. The characters' various quirks and eccentricities feel excessively arbitrary, picked for their ease of identification rather than any plausibility or human truth. In that sense, Poseidon is just like Allen's work; it's tolerable here only because there's much less of it to be seen.

The protagonists are all passengers on the title luxury liner, partying away the new year until a colossal tidal wave knocks the ship upside down like a child's bath toy. Trapped in the topmost ballroom, a small group of survivors must climb up (down) to the hull which is now the only means of escape above water. The ship is slowly flooding, giving them a ticking clock to work against, and the sheer variety of threats (drowning, fires, electrocution, asphyxiation) ensures that each new obstacle they face has a slightly different dimension. The wrongheaded captain (Andre Braugher, utterly wasted) makes vague pronouncements of the "God help us" sort, while keeping the bulk of the passengers tied down in the ballroom and letting us focus on our single band of determined heroes slowly clambering up through the debris.

Petersen has a knack for claustrophobia, of course, and he delivers a few white-knuckle moments centered on the fear of being stuck in a small space while the waters slowly rise. During these periods, Poseidon comes close to delivering the popcorn thrills it promises, though it still feels like a second-rate cousin of Das Boot (to say nothing of Cameron's various underwater adventures, from which this film liberally cribs). Far too often, however, the excitement is sabotaged by storytelling gaffes and gaps in logic, conveniently waved away by the type of filler my father refers to as "phonus balonus." Despite points of fitful effectiveness, the film's totality is little more than a cheap puzzle-box, presenting simplistic challenges solved by routine fork-and-spoon heroics.

Not that we could have expected much from such source material. Allen's tenuous legacy can be seen in many an empty blockbuster, but that doesn't mean a direct remake is recommended on any level. Poseidon is so vacuous, so utterly devoid of reason or purpose, that even its modest assets fail to leave any kind of impression. If you need to justify the big-screen experience, find something else. If you just want to see a ship sink, dust off Titanic... or better yet, try Netflixing Stephen Sommers' Deep Rising. It, at least, has the good sense to be in on the joke.

Review published 05.11.2006.

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