Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett, Andre Braugher, Kevin Dillon
The Poseidon Adventure is one of the classic disaster films of the 1970’s and a personal favorite of mine, so I’ll admit I approached Wolfgang Petersen’s remake with some skepticism. And no, the 2006 version of Poseidon doesn’t even come close to the original in terms of atmosphere, characters or suspense. It does deliver some nice action sequences, though.
Again, it is New Year’s Eve, but this time we don’t know where we’re headed. We just arrive onboard the luxury cruise ship Poseidon somewhere out on the seven seas. We meet professional gambler Josh Lucas, ex-firefighter and ex-mayor of New York Kurt Russell, his daughter Emmy Rossum and her beau Whatzisface. Josh flirts a bit with single mother Jacinda Barrett, who has a son of about 10 or 12, and we meet a Gay Guy (Richard Dreyfuss) who’s suicidal because his boyfriend has met someone new. Also, there’s a Hispanic stowaway, a nameless crewmember and a drunk guy. Can you guess who will die?
Again, the ship is hit by a humongous wave and turned upside down. In 1972 the wave was a tsunami caused by an underwater earthquake, but this time no-one even tries to give an explanation. The captain (Andre Braugher) says something along the lines of “these rogue waves sure are unpredictable” — and that’s it. You get the palpable feeling that the filmmakers want to get all that annoying exposition out of the way as quickly as possible so we can start chomping popcorn.
Again, our heroes has to climb up through the ship, encountering various obstacles and death traps on the way, while the rest of the passengers remain in the ballroom and drown miserably. Here comes the good news: the action sequences are well executed and good-looking (though it’s remarkable how well lit the inside of a capsized, crippled and sinking cruise ship rocked by big explosions actually is).
Problem is, even as an action film Petersen’s Poseidon is a bit too sleek for its own good: it is utterly anonymous. Where the 1972 original invited us to follow a band of differentiated and actually kind of interesting characters, this one gives us a group of mainly young, mainly good-looking people who are more or less devoid of distinguishing features. No Shelley Winters here — instead we get a sexy young stowaway whose name we can’t remember two minutes after she’s dead. Petersen serves up a series of high-adrenaline situations, well paced but with a somewhat generic feel, and the script seems to actively shun anything more complex than Kurt Russell’s overbearingly protective attitude towards his adult daughter.
In an early scene, Richard Dreyfuss has to kick himself free of an unlucky crewmember in order to save his own life, letting the nameless man fall to a gruesome death. An interesting moral dilemma, but this isn’t touched upon or acknowledged with even a single word. A little later, the pretty stowaway drowns, and everyone grieves tremendously even though we don’t know her much better than Nameless Guy. It sits kind of strange, at least with yours truly. Needless to say, Kurt Russell’s self-sacrifice has no impact whatsoever compared to Gene Hackman’s fierce preacher meeting his maker in the original.
Russell is a likeable enough actor, but neither he nor anyone else manages to make much of an impression. Using Richard Dreyfuss like this is a waste — after initially appearing to be one of the few actual characters in the story, he more or less vanishes from the action, merely tagging along in the background until getting hit in the face by the propeller shaft hatch at the very end. Josh Lucas is your typical handsome Mr. Action Hero. Emmy Rossum is pretty and tearful, as is every other female character.
Seen as pure action/adventure, Poseidon is actually decent: technically well-made with good-looking action and effects work as its major strengths, but the movie is lacking in most other aspects. I must admit I had hoped for something more atmospheric and less generic from the director of the classic submarine movie Das Boot.