On a day when the earth moved under the South Pacific and its helpless islands were served with nasty tsunami warnings, I can’t say I was fully ready to roll with a film that dispatches thousands of well-dressed party animals with a single 150-foot rogue wave. On the other hand, Wolfgang Petersen, who has a rocking track record with moisture (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm), steps handily up to the plate once more, provided you require nothing more from your disaster movies than heaps of virtual fright factor delivered from great heights and impenetrable depths. Not that I can think of a pressing need to remake Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), as engaging a slice of cheeseball as you could hope to find this side of Titanic — and anyway, Michael Caine already came back in 1979 to sack the poor old hulk in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.
Nonetheless, in a gallant stab at significance, the production notes for Poseidon pose the deep-thinking question, “What would you do if the whole world turned upside down?” Well, die, obviously, as hundreds of extras do one New Year’s Eve, with little more warning than a cry of “No! No!” from the chief officer on the deck of a luxury cruise liner (800 state rooms! 13 passenger decks! Funicular elevators! Josh Lucas!). Overcome by flooding, shorting electricity and flash fires, the expendable masses succumb with barely more than statutory staring eyeballs, hands clapped over mouths and last-minute hugs with total strangers. But as Petersen is well aware, going down without a struggle is simply not der Amerikanische weg, and thus it falls to a small but select band of survivors — armed with spunk, a heroic WWII-style score and Mark Protosevich’s ineffably daft script — to persevere onward and upward through the waterlogged, overturned ship in feats that call for an oceanic suspension of disbelief.
No matter: The effects are terrific, from the two-and-a-half-minute opening sequence that tracks around the brilliantly lit liner from below, above and round about, to some amazing exterior shots of the groaning vessel rolling around in the churning sea like a giant, wounded whale. So it’s only of passing interest who of this tiny group will prevail (whites only — Latinos drop like flies), all of whom pause rhythmically to reflect on the unfinished business of their lives, which includes political and parental failure (Kurt Russell as a former NYC mayor), commitment phobia (Emmy Rossum as Russell’s daughter) that dissipates upon the ?production of a diamond ring, ?rank narcissism (Lucas, playing a me-first gambler) and suicidal tendencies (Richard Dreyfuss ?in the movie’s lone — and unintended — amusing turn as a gay architect whose lover has dumped him for another). If the prospect ?of expiring horribly strikes you as a rather extreme way of growing backbone and getting life plans back on track, you should know that Poseidon is a movie with ?absolutely no sense of humor. Which may be why, as I watched a plucky single mom (Jacinda Barrett) go glug-glug in solidarity with her submerging little boy (Jimmy Bennett), I found myself longing nostalgically for her ?counterpart in the original, ?Shelley Winters, paddling around happily while spewing one-liners to beat the band.
POSEIDON | Directed by WOLFGANG PETERSEN | Written by MARK PROTOSEVICH, adapted from the novel by PAUL GALLICO | Produced by PETERSEN, DUNCAN HENDERSON, MIKE FLEISS and AKIVA GOLDSMAN | Released by Warner Bros. | Citywide