Why do all bad things happen at night? Even if we didnít already know the story of ďPoseidon,Ē the second scene sight of New Yearís Eve revelers dancing the year away in a brightly lit ballroom on the black Atlantic is a chiller. We know that a rogue wave rolling across the vast ocean will turn the enormous cruise ship into a tiny fleck in its path. The problem here is that the wave, at ten minutes in, is the peak of the movie; itís all submergence after that.
Director Wolfgang Petersen introduces us to this yearís handful of players. Bob Ramsey (Kurt Russell), lonely father of Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), Christian (Mike Vogel), Jenniferís hunky boyfriend, Nelson, a gay Richard Dreyfus, stowaway Elena (Mia Maestro), single mom Molly (Jacinda Barrett) and her little boy Conor (Jimmy Bennett), and, first among equals, Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), a professional gambler who makes his living off other peopleís weaknesses.
Josh Lucas is fine as the dilettante with a deeper core, Kurt Russell o.k. as a responsible dad, but it is Richard Dreyfus who conveys a few moments of real emotion. In an early scene, he mounts the rail as a suicide, sees the monstrous wave and runs back in to take his chances. Itís a great moment, and so is his feeling for an imperiled human being. Dreyfus has never been afraid to expose his heart and after all these years and in the messy confusion of this movie, we appreciate him for it.
And so this band that mostly measures up becomes our collective tour guide through the disaster. When the ship flips, they maneuver through flaming oil, fire, rushing water, and crashing beams toward the top, really the bottom now on top, through whatever is in between, to the sky. As they move inch by tortured inch to survival what is an audience to do? We can stay comfortably outside the movie chuckling, but whatís the fun in that? If we allow ourselves to step into it, we are assaulted with an hour and forty minutes of deafening soundtrack. When you see a hatch cover, it will blow; when you see sparks, something will explode; when you see water trickling slowly, watch out for another blowout; when you see an elevator, it will fall. And still our intrepid group grunts, groans, and strains its way skyward through every obstacle the director can throw at them. Mr. Petersen is quite obviously stretching to find new ways to scare us, but his main weapon remains ear-splitting repetition.
Sitting through this ordeal is no fun. The disaster/blockbuster that used to be the stuff of escapism is now the stuff of the last century. In this new world of unfolding and impending tragedies, isnít manufactured death finished as a lighthearted movie theme? Donít we need to dream or laugh or watch something profoundly well done? One Poseidon in the mid-1900s was enough.
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