It may be cheese, but Poseidon lays out a mighty fine spread. Director Wolfgang Petersen is the go-to guy for a movie about a rogue wave (The Perfect Storm) or folks trapped in a boat underwater (Das Boot). He shoots both barrels in this escapist blast. After a perfunctory character setup, Petersen hits the action button and never stops whaling on it. The plot? A 150-foot tidal wave knocks the rivets out of a cruise ship just as a New Year’s Eve party commences. The ship flips, the floor becomes the ceiling and the passengers come tumbling down. You can almost see Petersen behind the camera whipping the actors into shape. But hold the applause for the computer crew that generated the money shots. That wave — it isn’t there. That majestic ship, revealed in all its twenty-story, thirteen-deck glory in the stunning opening sequence — it’s not there, either. Hollywood made a hit film of Paul Gallico’s novel The Poseidon Adventure back in 1972, sparking an era of disaster flicks. On the technical front, this remake whups the original’s ass.
Groupies of the old Poseidon know why they enjoy repeat viewings of this bilge: It’s camp, the Rocky Horror Picture Show of calamity flicks, a fun invitation to repeat the bad dialogue aloud with the actors. The remake plays it straight. The original red five Oscar winners, including Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters. The remake has only one: Richard Dreyfuss as a gay passenger contemplating suicide. Petersen’s stripped-down version jettisons the old script in favor of one by Mark Protosevich that invents new characters and scales their sob stories for short attention spans. Kurt Russell does the stalwart-hero honors as Robert Ramsey, a former mayor of New York who was once a firefighter and is now traveling with his hottie daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend (Mike Vogel), hoping they won’t have sex, at least not in front of him. That’s a lot of baggage for a character to carry when they could have just outfitted Russell with an eye patch, called him Snake Plissken and titled the film Escape From the North Atlantic. Josh Lucas has the most colorful role, as Dylan Johns, a professional gambler who hits on a young mom (Jacinda Barrett) vacationing with her son (Jimmy Bennett). The rest is spotting familiar faces from TV: That stowaway is Mia Maestro, from Alias, the captain is Andre Braugher, from Homicide, the waiter is Freddy Rodriguez, from Six Feet Under. Kevin Dillon, from Entourage, plays the loudmouthed Lucky Larry. Guess how he ends up?
You’ll end up entertained if you forgive the cliches and let Petersen grab you with the visuals, from the avalanche of water in the ballroom to the eerie sight of a flooded crawl space where wires take on the form of deadly tentacles. One of the bigger names in the cast has a drowning scene that really had me going. You don’t expect a remake to spring surprises. This one does.