Friday, May 12, 2006

REVIEW: Poseidon (2006)

Irwin Allen didn't invent the disaster movie, but he DID perfect it: Trap a bunch of interesting characters (or, failing that, not-so-interesting characters played by recognizable stars) in a location and then have them react to a calamitous event that turns the world upside-down. In "The Poseidon Adventure," the formula reached a kind of poetic zenith by taking the approach literally; in that the cast had to escape from a cruise ship that had been capsized... LITERALLY turned upside-down. Like most of Allen's films, the focus was on the BIG: Big names, big thrills and really, REALLY big melodrama. Lots of characters with detailed, interlocking backstories worked out their issues in broad strokes amid the carnage, and the result was a blockbuster then and a fondly-remembered "camp-classic" to this day; the sort of film where the most memorable performance is given by Shelly Winters as a jolly older lady who summons the last shred of her past as a champion swimmer to make a self-sacrificing dive and save the day.

In contrast (which is innevitable, lets not pretend otherwise) Wolfgang Petersen's new remake is a lean machine. Not only does it shorten the title to simply "Poseidon," it disposes almost-entirely with the concept of a first (or third) act: The film has BARELY begun when a massive "rogue wave" flips the luxury liner over on New Years eve, and the rest is ALL 2nd act as a group of strangers band together in a desperate, obstacle-laden dash for the exit. The cast (smaller than last time, as well) is in no way afforded the kind of lengthy buildup they were in Allen's ouvre: Our Heroes are sketched out as broad, simple cliche's of the genre, and for the most part they behave accordingly.

Josh Lucas is a professional gambler who (grudgingly) opts to lead people to safety. How can he do this? Well, not to spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say the old rule of "ex-_______" guys being EVERYWHERE in action movies holds true. Taking him up on the offer is Kurt Russell, playing a retired NYC firefighter who's (no, seriously) the retired Mayor of New York! That's two, count `em, TWO post-9/11 references for one, folks! The Mayor is looking out for his daughter (Emmy Rossum from "Phantom of The Opera",) who's brought along the boyfriend whom dad is really hoping she's not sleeping with... so, boy, won't he be surprised to learn that they're already married!

Richard Dreyfuss as an older gentleman feeling suicidal after being dumped by his boyfriend, Jacinda Barrett as a single mom who's son takes instant shine to Lucas, Freddy Rodriguez as a waiter and Mia Maestro as a stowaway round out the cast. Oh, and Kevin Dillon shows up as a drunken, verbally-abusive lounge lizard. Guess which one of these people is only here to be "the funny kill."

This is all very exciting, with good effects and a handful of genuinely kickass action setpeices, but the fact is that cutting all the "fat" from the disaster formula has rendered much of it largely unmemorable. The hammy crew from the original may have been corny, but we got to known them so well that it actually mattered when they started dropping off in the 2nd act.

"Poseidon" is in a little too big of a hurry to finish, as though everyone involved is just hoping to get the job done and move on to more important things. That probably aptly describes the additude of most of the players here, but that it's ended up so palpable in the movie-proper is something of a dissapointment.