- Runtime: 99min.
- MPAA Rating:
- Year: 2006
- Reviewed by: Mel Valentin
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Current Rating 6.22/10 | 32 Votes
Once, not long ago, the 1970s became the golden age for big-budget disaster flicks, starting, appropriately enough, in 1970 with Airport, a disaster-in-the-sky, multi-character soap opera that featured pretty faces, mid-level stars, and fading actors hoping for one last paycheck. Audiences lapped it up (three sequels followed in '75, '77, and '79, each one more preposterous than the last). Producers took notice, as did book publishers, who happily cranked out disaster-centered potboilers. Screenwriters got to work on duplicating Airport's formula for commercial success (e.g., The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Swarm, When Time Ran Out).
Two years later, TV-producer-turned-disaster-flick specialist, Irwin Allen (Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) released The Poseidon Adventure. With a high-concept premise (an overturned ocean liner), generous budget, and fading actors (e.g., Ernest Borgnine, the incomparable Shelley Winters), plus future Oscar-winner Gene Hackman in the lead, Allen scored a sizeable hit with The Poseidon Adventure. More than thirty years later, someone, somewhere decided that The Poseidon Adventure was ripe for a money-generating remake (this time, though, without the "Adventure" in the title).
Poseidon wastes no time (and by "wastes no time" this reviewer means about 15 minutes of onscreen time) before a rogue wave (a tsunami in the original) hits the state-of-the-art ocean liner. Characters get all of one or two establishing scenes before disaster strikes. Character "moments" that reveal backgrounds or inner lives is all but non-existent. In short order, several hundred New Year's revelers aboard the Poseidon are whittled down to less than a dozen intrepid survivors led by the reluctant hero, Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas, runner-up in the Mr. Intensity of the Year Award to this year's presumptive winner, Tom Cruise). A professional gambler, Dylan has no interest in helping others to survive (ergo Dylan's predictable character arc).
Once Dylan and Robert (Kurt Russell, in Bruce Willis/Armageddon mode) exchange a few words, Dylan grudgingly allows Robert, Robert's daughter, Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), a near-suicidal businessman, Richard (Richard Dreyfuss, looking frail and old), an attractive single mom, Maggie (Jacinda Barrett), and her son, Conor (Jimmy Bennett) to tag along. The group eventually expands to include Jennifer's boyfriend, Christian (Mike Vogel), a waiter who knows his way around the ship, Valentin (Freddy Rodríguez), a stowaway on her way to New York to visit a sick relative, Elena (Mía Maestro), and the singularly unpleasant "Lucky" Larry (Kevin Dillon), another gambler whose hubristic nickname practically begs for something blackly comic to ruthlessly end his stay aboard the Poseidon. The ship's captain, Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher), decides to stay with the larger group of survivors in the upside-down ballroom. Bad move there, captain.
As the disheveled, traumatized survivors make their way to (presumed) safety, they have to confront and overcome the usual hazards associated with an overturned ocean liner, water, fire, debris, rinse, repeat. Adding tension and suspense to an already dire situation, the Poseidon in this remake has to contend with a rapidly sinking ship. Luckily the survivors are moving from the bottom of the overturned ocean liner to the top (or is the other way around). In the original, the survivors expected to be rescued once they reached their destination. This time out, they're goal is the propeller room where they can make their escape to the outside world. Either way, cue impressive set pieces involving practical and digital effects (the best that a reportedly $150-million dollar budget can give audiences) and some unimpressive set pieces involving water effects (almost, but not quite photorealistic) and occasionally dodgy CGI (e.g., a massive oil leak that breaks through the "ceiling," creating an artificial waterfall the survivors have to get around).
Poseidon shows its less-enlightened roots through the characters ultimately selected for survival. It's one thing not to include minorities in the cast of characters. It's another to revert back to 80s-era conventions and not allow any of them you do include in the cast of characters to survive. The African-American captain doesn't get very far (as in the original, those who stay behind in the ballroom are as good as dead) and the two Latino actors/characters in the cast manage to make it out of the ballroom, but not much further. There's also a hint of a burgeoning relationship between Richard and Elena (they share an unknown connection to a third character) that goes nowhere dramatically. As it is, the closing shot lingers on a makeshift family, two heterosexual couples (one with child) and a grandfatherly type (whose sexual orientation makes for the one progressive element in the entire storyline). And the less said about the overused, manipulative child-in-peril subplot, the better. Seriously.
Underneath it all beats the heart of old-school (as in early 20th-century) Social Darwinism, the perverse, perversely twisted idea that wealth, power, and social status are indicative of general fitness to survive. Here, physical strength, smarts, experience, and, yes, some luck, help guarantee survivial. It also helps that they're of the Caucasian persuasion. Not to mention, any film that doesn't allow a character named "Valentin" (who unforgivably, inexplicably introduces himself to the other survivors as "Valentine") to survive past the first major obstacle deserves all the (mild) opprobrium it gets.
© Mel Valentin, 11th May, 2006
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