Friday, May 12, 2006

Poseidon - Movie Review

Poseidon 2006

Back in the freewheeling seventies, when we weren’t busy taking EST courses or attending Key Parties, we enjoyed watching one of cinema’s most fondly remembered yet artistically laughable sub-genres – “The Disaster Epic”. The grand purveyor of such schlock was the incomparable Irwin Allen who launched his career with the Oscar winning documentary “The Sea Around Us”. After dabbling in a few action adventure type big screen efforts, ole Irwin earned quite the reputation from sci-fi geeks the world over with his popular TV fare: “Lost in Space”, “The Time Tunnel” and our personal favorite “Land of the Giants”.

Now, while many might credit Irwin with the creation of “The Disaster Epic” format, if truth be told, destruction on a grand scale as a plot device had been around ever since the silent era. From “Noah’s Ark” to the famed Biblical epics by Cecil B. DeMille, the slow torturous deaths of unnamed extras has always equaled entertainment for thrill seeking audiences. The 1930s in particular were ripe with big budget extravaganzas ending in apocalyptic finales: “San Francisco”, “In Old Chicago”, “The Hurricane” and “The Rains Came” to name a few.

And certainly the great producer Ross Hunter should be credited for his hugely popular and overly Oscar nominatedAirport” which thrilled audiences in 1970 with its all star cast imperiled aboard a jumbo jet. And yet, we must tip our hats to Mr. Allen for really slathering on the cinematic soap when it came to life threatening situations involving aging Oscar winning actresses skirting death in chiffon ensembles. Whether it was Shelley Winters drowning in “The Poseidon Adventure” or Jennifer Jones plummeting from a glass elevator in “The Towering Inferno” or Olivia de Havilland’s tasteful chignon being threatened by African Killer Bees in “The Swarm” – Irwin knew how to make ‘em! And more importantly for movie buffs, the fans remember them with fondness, i.e. stalkerish interest.

Now, thirty four years after the original, one sequel and one television remake later – Wolfgang Petersen has decided to plunge back into the waters and capsize us with a truly useless second remake. Believe it or not, at one point in his career, Wolfgang was a talented director. Scoring an Oscar nomination for his claustrophobic WWII era Nazis-trapped-in-a-sub movie – “Das Boot”, he quickly hopped the pond and began his slow descent into madness. Despite landing a couple of hits with “In the Line of Fire” and “The Perfect Storm”, he also stumbled painfully and pitifully over the dregs of “Outbreak” and “Troy”. (Although we do have fond memories of a buffed Brad Pitt and Eric Bana wrestling in the sand decked out in leather skirts – it was truly not worth our time.)

Perhaps reflective of Wolfgang’s dimming star, the casting for this sinkhole is decidedly B-list, with a toe dip into D and F-list territory. Josh Lucas of the dreamy blue eyes and jagged teeth headlines as the “professional gambler”.

Kurt Russell, who sadly has long ago given up any pretensions of being a true star is cast in the secondary male lead role as a former firefighter and one time mayor of New York. And believe us, as difficult as that was for us to type, it is even more difficult to work into a decent line of dialogue, but God damn it, they keep trying.

As his worthless slut of a daughter, Emmy “Who Did You Blow to Have a Career” Rossum sleepwalks thru her part with all the gumption and verve of a ten day old scab. Seriously. The girl cannot fake her way thru “pretend drowning” when she is actually drowning. More on this later.

The rest of the cast really run the gamut from once talented to never talented. The sole Oscar winner this time around is Richard Dreyfuss cast as a prissy suicidal gay architect . . . stay with us . . . who would have scored better had he been decked out in chiffon. Andre Braugher reads his cue cards as the Captain of the doomed luxury liner. Kevin Dillon (Matt’s brother. Sorry, Kevin – despite your twenty three year long acting career, you will always need that intro.) is absolutely shameless in his overacting as the rascally villain of the piece, Lucky Larry. But, let’s be fair. The villain is the “rogue wave” that capsizes the boat, so we have to wonder why the screenwriter even bothered creating a worthless cliché of a character that they take all of ten minutes to kill off. Ooops. Did we spoil the movie? Get the fuck over it.

Jacinda Barrett of “The Real World – London” fame is cast as the mother of the preternaturally obnoxious Jimmy Bennett who suffers from “idiot-stereotype-child-in-peril-syndrome” which causes him to ignore his mother’s seven hundred and fifty two warnings to “stay by my side”. So of course, he wanders off and nearly drowns. We said nearly. As cruel as the producers were in forcing this drivel upon us, (We’re looking at you, Mrs. Sheila Allen – yes, Irwin’s widow and shameless bit player in the original.) at least we were correct in assuming that even they wouldn’t stoop to drowning a ten year old for entertainments sake. Not while they have Black people and Hispanics to kill.

To wit, Freddie “I’ll-take-any-role-since-‘Six Feet Under’-wrapped” Rodríquez and puta maestra / Mía Maestro are cast as: the busboy and stowaway friend. Nice. Real nice. Busboy and Stowaway. God forbid the Latinos should get cast as anything above the socio-economic level of illegal immigrant. And finally rounding out the cast are the wooden Mike Vogel as Emmy Rossum’s fiancée, Stacy “Black Eyed Peas” Ferguson as the whore . . . pardon us, chanteuse, and Gordon “Dynasty’s Adam Carrington” Thomson as the guy sitting two fags over from Richard Dreyfuss at dinner. After all, since Dick is playing gay . . . why not find some has-been from “Dynasty” to banter with?

All of this leads us to the worst crime committed by the cast and crew. Boring us. Now, to be fair with Wolfgang, he is too much of a pro to truly let the film fall into the garbage dump. He does have a way with water and he is thankfully aware that this drivel could not sustain an overblown running time, so he manages to keep the film floating at around the ninety minute mark. The filmmakers should also be commended by their choice to film the majority of the stunts with the real actors in lieu of stuntmen.

What little visceral thrill there is watching people almost drown or become impaled by flying debris comes from the “realism” on display in the close-ups and tight shots. With the exception of Emmy Rossum. Seriously, you dripping twat, how difficult is it to convey fear of drowning when you are actually at risk of drowning?

We understand fully that the requirements of the “Disaster Epic” genre dictate tossing together a bunch of strangers picked to live in a house . . . sorry, we had Jacinda on the mind. And actually, we think she was one of the best things in this sad little remake. Kudos to the Ozzie for escaping the Reality TV curse! Back to our disdain of the flick at hand. If you are going to remake a soggy, hammy action flick – go the extra mile! Irwin knew the score. Hire some A-listers, some past their prime and deck them out in flowing gowns and tuxes and then force them to run for their lives.

We’re picturing Nicole Kidman as the repressed psychiatrist / former triathlete, Tom Hanks as a jaded meteorologist / ex-Navy Seal, and Jane Fonda as the plucky retired lesbian-high-school-basketball-coach outrunning “rogue tornadoes” aboard a runaway elevated train being hijacked by Lithuanian dissidents. Elton John and Coldplay could compose the theme song, they could hire Spielberg to direct and Harold Pinter to collaborate on the screenplay with the guy who wrote “Snakes on a Plane”, throw in some young heartthrob and starlet with Oscar cred for youth appeal – we’re thinking Jake Gyllenhaal as a curiously buff Yeshiva student with a vast knowledge of runaway trains and Natalie Portman as a former Lithuanian prostitute-turned-eyebrow-waxing-technician who saves the day with her language and oral sex skills. And for the minority appeal, they can throw in Halle Berry as the crack addicted MTA worker who gets impaled during the credits by a tornado empowered umbrella. Cut. Wrap. Eleven Oscar nominations and boffo box office!!

No, no – don’t thank us, Mr. Producer. We’re giving you the idea for free in honor of the late, great Irwin Allen. Bless you all!

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Mark Protosevich
Based on the novel by Paul Gallico

Josh Lucas as Dylan Johns
Kurt Russell as Robert Ramsey
Richard Dreyfuss as Richard Nelson
Jacinda Barrett as Maggie James
Jimmy Bennett as Conor James
Emmy Rossum as Jennifer Ramsey
Mike Vogel as Christian
Mía Maestro as Elena Gonzalez
Freddy Rodríguez as Marco Valentin
Andre Braugher as Captain Michael Bradford
Kevin Dillon as Lucky Larry
Stacy Ferguson as Gloria
Gordon Thomson as Jay

Cinematography by John Seale
Film Editing by Peter Honess
Original Music by Klaus Badelt
Production Design by William Sandell
Art Direction by Kevin Ishioka & Mike Mansbridge
Set Decoration by Robert Gould
Costume Design by Erica Edell Phillips


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