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de-VICE #1

...that sinking feeling...

Voyage of the bland: 'Poseidon' rolls again

Andrez Bergen / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Cast: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett, Jimmy Bennett

If you're going to rebake a disaster movie of such epic schlock-chic value as The Poseidon Adventure, you'd better put together a mighty fine recipe.

From the histrionics of Shelley Winters and the ham-fisted, macho posturing of Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine to the (literal) depth-charge of disco just past the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the 34-year-old yarn had it all.

Along with Irwin Allen's next production, The Towering Inferno, it kick-started a '70s genre of faded-star catastrophe movies like Earthquake, Meteor and Airport '75.

When the "Master of Disaster" died in 1991 of natural causes, it looked like the calamity flick had passed away with Allen. But The Day After Tomorrow changed all that two years ago.

Which brings us to this retelling of the upended ship saga.

Again an official Irwin Allen production, Poseidon has been relaunched (with a streamlined moniker) by Allen's surviving spouse Sheila, who incidentally appeared in a supporting role in the original movie.

This remodeled vessel boasts a completely different passenger list. Josh Lucas, fresh from Stealth, stars alongside Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera) and Kurt Russell.

Russell last featured in an Irwin Allen production 40 years ago, in an episode of Lost In Space.

At the helm is German director Wolfgang Petersen. While his tendency in Hollywood has been the production of leaden projects like The Perfect Storm--another big wave saga--and Troy, this is still the man who directed the excellent, suspenseful U-boat drama Das Boot twenty-odd years ago.

Poseidon evinces a partial resurgence in his directorial stride. Under Petersen's control the movie is mostly tight, and at times visually mesmerizing.

For those of you who've somehow missed the multiple TV reruns of The Poseidon Adventure over the past three decades, the plot of that, and its remake, goes something like this:

It's New Year's Eve out there in the big blue yonder. An ocean liner called the Poseidon is carrying hundreds of wealthy passengers on a cruise most people in the audience will never be able to afford, when a rogue wave chugs out of nowhere and turns everything upside down.

The remainder of the story seems to have something to do with Darwin and the endurance of the fittest, as the survivors attempt to escape a pleasure cruiser that's turned immense, partially floating coffin.

In the new version, former firefighter Robert Ramsey (Russell), his daughter Jennifer (Rossum) and her fiance team up with hard-nosed gambler Dylan Johns (Lucas), an annoying suicidal gay pensioner (Richard Dreyfuss), a single mother with her geeky son, an alcoholic card shark named "Lucky" and a Catholic stowaway with claustrophobia.

Some of these people, of course, have "doomed to die" tattooed across their foreheads from the outset.

But who really cares?

The acting itself borders on the bland--Russell is workmanlike yet distracted, Lucas can't decide if he's earnest or arrogant, and Rossum fades into the upside down interior fixtures.

Petersen has to bear some responsibility for this lackadaisical effort.

Most of the blame rests with scriptwriter Mark Protosevich, whose interpretation of the Paul Gallico novel renders the characters half-baked. He's also completely blind to all the potential elements--dramatic as well as witty--that this topsy-turvy setting could have engendered.

And let's give it a break with the bodies.

We know a lot of people are dead. We've seen their demise quite graphically over the course of events, so why persist with dozens of corpses in various states of decay?

If realism is claimed, then why don't we just throw Protosevich's whole take on the story out of the port-hole, revive the actors, wring-out a decent script, and start again?


The movie opens today.
(Jun. 3, 2006)

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