Film » Screens

That Stinking Feeling

Poseidon's second voyage yields a brand-new disaster.


Borgnine and Winters are looking better and better.
  • Borgnine and Winters are looking better and better.

Our anemic movie industry recycles so relentlessly that even our complaining about such plasticized repackaging comes off as a recycled product, offered primarily to draw the line between concerned aging cinephiles and the target consumers who don't care a whit. Still, we've become a culture not merely tantalized by but doped on never-ending resurrections of our own recent junk. The market dynamic seems to be accelerating, and perhaps the diminishing returns will vanish altogether, and the punklike essence of movies -- people, stories, experience, visual insight -- may rise up. Or maybe not.

That no one is going to the mat for Irwin Allen's old Poseidon Adventure is beside the point; the inaugural disaster film was old-fashioned cheesecake. But it was still the '70s, so the actors looked like real people; the catastrophe at hand was entirely a matter of sets, stunts, real fire, and gravity; and the characters weren't hyper-formulated with motivational backstories and simplistic hero-villain identities. The new Poseidon -- an empty-skulled genre mechanism -- begins in digital fourth gear, swooping up, over, and around the animated ship, and catching glimpses of a jogging Josh Lucas all in one shot! Except we know it's not -- it's merely a series of tired computer-generated tricks, convincing no one.

But Wolfgang Petersen's movie truly begins to reveal itself with the brutally obvious early scenes introducing us to the B-list cast. Instead of Gene Hackman's bizarrely Nietzschean priest of the original film, we get Lucas as a career gambler with a mercenary sense of survival and lots of helpful experience as a Navy diver. Kurt Russell is his counterpoint, an ex-New York mayor ("Cool!" someone says in mid-fight-for-life) and, also luckily, a retired fireman. His daughter (Emmy Rossum, intolerably dewy at times) is stumping for her boyfriend (Mike Vogel) and even shows Daddy the secret engagement ring, right before they slide down a firehose over a lake of fire.

Richard Dreyfuss, as a heartbroken gay millionaire who is literally climbing over the rail in a suicidal lurch when the monster wave appears, proves to be mostly an impediment, but no more so than a handful of other lackluster souls. (Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, is the ballroom chanteuse not singing "The Morning After.") Old people -- the linchpin of every cruise-ship passenger list -- are nowhere to be seen here; when it comes time for a sacrificial rescue underwater, Russell is Shelley Winters of the original.

Nobody is able to act in any way that even James Lipton could praise; Petersen's movie moves too quickly, so conversations are reduced to stone-age quips.

In the end, Poseidon, like Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, may go down better with most audiences than it did with me. Disaster films -- a supposedly fun thing I may never want to do again after 9-11 -- are simple death porn, and the easy wow factor of fireballs, massive explosions, flying bodies, and architectural obliteration on a large scale is, or should be, no longer a gimme.

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