Movie review by Greg Carlson
Maybe its just not trashy enough to live up to its 1972 predecessor, but Wolfgang Petersen’s loose take on one of the essential disaster movies of its era fails to inspire more than a shrug. Dispensing with most of the plot of the original movie – as well as any indication that older people are realistically the most likely candidates to be found on a luxury liner – “Poseidon” ignores its thin characters in favor of a video game maze scenario in which a small band of passengers attempts to stay one step ahead of the rising water level. Despite Petersen’s skill with this milieu (“Das Boot,” “The Perfect Storm”), “Poseidon” leaves the viewer groping for dry land.
About the only thing “Poseidon” has going for it is its lean running time. Mark Protosevich’s script hastily sketches the set-up with near record speed: an opulent cruise ship en route to NYC on New Year’s Eve is inverted when a sneaky – and entirely ridiculous – “rogue wave” hits the vessel. Man of action Josh Lucas, a high stakes gambler with an unrelenting passion for self-preservation, ignores the wishes of the captain and begins a treacherous climb upward. Following Lucas are gorgeous single mom Jacinda Barrett and her son, suicidal millionaire Richard Dreyfuss, and retired fireman Kurt Russell, who also – for no good reason that the film can offer – used to serve as the mayor of New York.
On their ascent, the dogged group hooks up with jumpy stowaway Mia Maestro, Russell’s daughter Emmy Rossum, and her boyfriend Mike Vogel. Unfortunately, there is nobody to stand in for Shelley Winters’ Mrs. Rosen. Once the group is assembled, the movie shifts into thrill-a-minute mode, with a series of challenging perils hampering progress to the surface. Given the size of the group and the Herculean hazards in the way, it’s a safe bet to assume that not everyone is going to make it. But that’s what disaster movies do, and some of the death scenes of the core cast are staged with pulse-quickening effectiveness.
Weirdly, “Poseidon” squanders its rich opportunity to explore the darker aspects of human nature, offering instead a bland all-for-one and one-for-all mentality that celebrates cooperation and togetherness and absents cynicism and selfishness. While this temperament clearly rings with post-9/11 Hollywood guilt (and guile), “Poseidon” surely would have been a stronger film had it depicted mass casualties as something other than occasional shots of corpses floating face down or CG bodies tumbling through the air.
The fleeting exception to “Poseidon’s” grating bootstrap optimism is embodied in the character of Kevin Dillon’s “Lucky Larry,” a reptilian alcoholic who clearly doesn’t believe in women and children first. Dillon’s screen time is all too brief, especially since he’s the only performer who realizes “Poseidon” is trash, and hams it up accordingly. Had Lucky Larry survived long enough to provide a little bit of an antidote to the heroic do-gooders, the movie might have been a sight more enjoyable. As it stands, however, fans of the original adventure are not going to abandon ship for the new model.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/15/06.