The day of the disaster film has finally ended; Poseidon put the last nail into the coffin himself.
On the eve of a new year, a luxury cruise ship named Poseidon steams along into the night. On board is an ex- New York city mayor (Kurt Russel), his daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend (Mike Vogel), a lonely gay businessman (Richard Dreyfuss), a professional gambler who survives by his wits (Josh Lucas), a stowaway (M?a Maestro), and a single mother (Jacinda Barrett) and her son (Jimmy Bennett), all of which will bind together to escape after a “rogue wave” crashes into the liner and capsizes it. Everything up is down and down is up; will our victims free themselves from the doomed and sinking ship before the producers run out the budget in disaster special effects?
I don’t expect much from a popcorn flick, but there are a few rules for any film that spends its entire running time attempting to kill its cast (even the horror genre has figured THAT out). But when you hire known actors and spend $160 million, shouldn’t it be expected that you somewhat care whether or not your main characters will die? Where’s the love? Where’s the drama? Where’s the pain? Worse yet, the film starts off by showing us the worst in these characters, and that sour taste resonates bitterness all the way to the end.
The biggest problem is story; after introducing us to all these people, the script refuses to tell us anything more. Why did Kurt Russel quit being mayor? Why did his daughter learn to hate him during that time? What turned a possible ex-Navy Seal into a death-wishing gambler? Why does a jilted gay lover moments away throwing himself overboard alone suddenly cling to a tiny chance at life? Why exactly was a single mother on board with her child? EVERY ONE of these questions comes up during the film, and NOT ONE OF THEM is ever addressed; is all this footage on the cutting room floor somewhere? Who had the final edit on this thing?
Problem two, where did reportedly $160 million budget go? There were three major sets as far as I could tell: the main lobby and elevators, the disco, and the ballroom. Now, unlike Titanic, no one was trying to recreate the exact replica of the dish pattern from any place, so the sets basically existed to be destoryed or become treacherous obstacles. Everything else was models, CGI, and the bodies of background actors floating by. All in all, nothing truly spectacular except for maybe a pillar of fire when a fuel-oil leak ignited in the lobby. Even the post-capsizing body count is pathetic; there just weren’t enough survivors left to kill off even for the random effect of it!
I could also compare this entire film to Emmy Rossum, the young actress who’s very presence seems to guarantee a poor final film (kind of like Pen?©lope Cruz without the leadin man affair rumors). Ms. Rossum is achingly beautiful to look at, but the most acting we ever see her do is reserved to being the hollow, wooden, damsel in distress or the prize to be won. In fact, she’d be perfect as “Snow White”; show her biting into an apple in the opening credits and spend the rest of the film cutting back to glimpses of her lifeless yet desirable body in a glass case while “the hero” quests to save her (c’mon… it’s what they’re doing to her now!) Not to be outdone, the same could also be said for Josh Lucas, but does he really rate higher billing than Kurt Russell?
In the end, Waterworld gave you more bang for the buck, and ripping off the finer plot points of Armageddon didn’t help, either. Who was this movie even made for? People looking for serious drama? Nope. Horror officiados looking for blood, gore, or at least a few interesting deaths? No. And the only thing this film does for the cruise line industry is suggest that, when disaster strikes, ignore the captain and follow the ex-Navy gambler if you can keep up.
In the rush to make something for everyone, the final product is almost nothing for anyone. If you’re looking for cruise liners and death, rent Dark Castle’s Ghost Ship; if you need a character study of an ensemble cast being picked off one by one, watch Identity. But if you just want to see 21st-century special effects of a cruise ship capsizing when it’s hit by a rogue wave, buy a matinee ticket, watch the first 25 minutes of Poseidon, then walk out and get your money back.
(a one skull recommendation out of four)