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May 10-16, 2006

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Photograph by Claudette Barius
Cruising for Trouble: Josh Lucas tries to find a way out of the doomed luxury liner 'Poseidon.'

The Boatniks

'Poseidon' takes a dive all over again

By Richard von Busack

WHY DID there have to be a morning after for this one? The rationale must have been that Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), just like swimming star Esther Williams, was a hit maker when he was submerged. The second remake of the famous disaster movie has Peterson revving the action up to get things done fast, trying to remove any lingering humanism or characterization buried under this vast engine of destruction. Sometimes this works—we just barely overhear the reason the gambler Dylan (Josh Lucas) knows so much about ships: "How long were you in the Navy?" "Too long."

Sometimes the writing is sketchier. While Peterson tries to stress that that catastrophe winnows out the heroes and the cowards alike, it just happens that one of the ringleaders of the escape is a ex-firefighter turned mayor of New York City (Kurt Russell). Admittedly, this big cheese is a victim of some underwritten disgrace. (His daughter, Emmy Rossum, refuses to forgive him. In some draft of this script, was Russell supposed to be a Bill Clinton, who betrayed his constituency at dickpoint?) Perhaps characterization is just a waste of time. Perhaps all that really matters is just an ocean liner killing its decadent human tormentors.

Without exposing the casualty list too early, the choice of survivors doesn't truly illustrate the idea that the wicked survive as well as the decent. Of the climbers, I prefer the snazzy Kevin Dillon, Matt's brother. Even if Dillon is outrageously overplaying the part of a boor with caterpillar mustache, a yellow ruffled shirt and a hip flask, someone obnoxious can always be a real spirit booster in times of disaster, because they'll say what no one else dares to utter. Unfortunately, Mía Maestro (The Holy Girl) is nudged out; she has the Stella Stevens whore role, although in this version, she's just a situational. (Pauline Kael accused the original Poseidon Adventure of scoping out the female stars' butts as they were climbing up ladders in wet gowns, but this movie treats its talent more respectfully. Mentioning this means that I've probably injured the opening weekend's grosses.)

As the purpose of Poseidon is to see extras cascading, impaled, flash-fried and drowned, whatever subtext the film might have never justifies the film's means. Only one death has some sinister poetry to it. A swimmer is snagged and killed by a floating mess of metal electrical conduit, and the moment looks like death by mechanical octopus. For that matter, an outbreak of electrocution is maybe the nastiest set of shockings since the ones in Carrie.

Even if the sets are real enough, with the flotsam and jetsam washing back and forth and bouncing off the shins of the climbers, the ballroom green-screening is inexcusable for this level of filmmaking. It must be particularly difficult for digital artists to cook up the sight of a jumbo ship sailing on the ocean. The colors are egregious; white comes out with a dull blue glow, like dairy products gone bad, and the sunsets are a seasick pink-green. The reward for the Poseidon's survivors is the sight of a night seascape of such fakeness that it takes special effects right to the point where George Méliès found them.

Movie TimesPoseidon (PG-13; 99 min.), directed by Wolfgang Petersen, written by Mark Protosevich and Paul Gallico, photographed John Seale and starring Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas, opens May 12.

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