Wave hits. Boat flips. Survivors climb. Short movie. Smart move. Good time.
A ruthless ride that slams the brakes after 90 minutes (not counting credits), this remake of The Poseidon Adventure will be the blockbuster to beat this season for efficiency — something director Wolfgang Petersen isn’t known for (his last movie under two hours was Scandalous in 1991).
It’s his most empty-headed piece of entertainment since Air Force One, albeit with larger logic holes appropriately sized for an ocean liner. For instance, dangling wires and standing water apparently cause electrocution in only one area, allowing unlikely heroics later. And there’s no way Richard Dreyfuss’ gay architect would flirt at the time he does in one of a handful of ill-timed jokes.
And, for all its economy, some characters could be cut. Kevin Dillon’s unnecessarily snide Lucky Larry creates a similar problem as The Day After Tomorrow — a breathing villain where science, physics and nature are doing just fine on their own. And as a cruise-ship singer, Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas performs two songs so stupid you’ll beg for a will.i.am remix of “The Morning After.”
No problem nags, given the aggressive, get-in-and-get-out intensity of a disaster movie unafraid to decisively, and gruesomely, off people. A nasty elevator-shaft death likely will lead into what could be the widest complaint: the breakneck pace doesn’t allow you to care about the characters.
This isn’t that kind of boat-disaster movie. Titanic fleshed people out to put human faces on textbook tragedy. Like Deep Blue Sea or Deep Rising, this is body-count-at-sea schlock, and as Kurt Russell’s character says, there’s nothing fair about who lives and who dies.
There’s also nothing fair about making audiences sit and wait for the “rogue wave” we know will hit the boat, so Petersen wastes little time with almost-perfunctory back-stories.
After delicious overacting by Kirk B.R. Woller as the chief officer on deck, the wall of water crashes into the luxury liner on a New Year’s Eve cruise. It’s an arresting topsy-turvy sequence of flash-fires roasting galley workers, lighting rigs crushing clubbers and glass-elevator doors that crack to send patrons plummeting to doom.
The captain of this now upside-down ship (Andre Braugher) assures survivors in the lavish lobby that the room will hold structurally and a GPS beacon means rescue is, at most, several hours away. When Dreyfuss’ architect differs in opinion on whether the room’s integrity will keep, he becomes part of a group of 10 to start a perilously uncertain journey upward.
Joining him are: a professional gambler and ersatz leader (Josh Lucas); a former New York mayor (Russell, giving his usual B-movie grit on a Giuliani spin), his daughter (Emmy Rossum, in the same boat as in Tomorrow) and her fiance (Mike Vogel); an estranged mother (Jacinda Barrett) and her son (Jimmy Bennett, adding to his kids-in-distress resume); Dillon’s Larry; a galley worker (Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez) and his stowaway friend (Mia Maestro of Alias).
Brief bits of survivalist psychology and instinct complement their linear (and understandable) route toward the top, namely in an uncomfortably claustrophobic climb up a ventilation shaft. And, if only for a few seconds, Russell, Dreyfuss, Barrett and Lucas (achieving the minor miracle of acquitting himself for Stealth) offer some subtext to their characters. Barrett, in particular, takes part in easily the most nerve-wracking water-rising-in-enclosed-space scene since The Abyss.
How that sticky situation resolves itself is one of mercifully few “Wha’ happened?” moments in a movie that thankfully doesn’t sink under the modern notion that blockbuster must mean bloat.