Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Directed by: Irwin Allen
Starring: Michael Caine, Sally Field, Karl Malden, Telly Savalas, Slim Pickens, Peter Boyle, Angela Cartwright
In his review of this film, Roger Ebert tells the story of discussing a possible sequel to The Poseidon Adventure with producer Irwin Allen, several years before the fact. As Ebert tells it, Allen toyed with the idea of taking the survivors from the first movie and putting them on a train, which would then become trapped inside a collapsed tunnel through the Alps. If only they’d gone with that one…
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, based (apparently quite loosely) on a sequel novel by original Poseidon Adventure author Paul Gallico, introduces us to Captain Mike Turner (Michael Caine), steering his little tugboat through a bad storm with the help of his second mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and Celeste, a girl who for some not very well-explained reason needs a ride to Africa (Sally Field). The next morning they stumble across the wreck of the Poseidon (the capsizing of which is recapped in 30 seconds at the beginning of the film). As Captain Mike is in risk of having his little tugboat repossessed by the bank, he’s eager to claim salvage rights for the Poseidon, and prepares to go into the wreck in search of valuables.
The tugboat trio gets company as another boat arrives, carrying one Dr. Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas) and his crew of silent tough guys. Svevo claims to be a medical doctor out to aid any remaining survivors, after having picked up the S.O.S. from the Poseidon. Dr. Svevo and his crew are oddly sinister as paramedics go, but no-one in the film seems too concerned.
As both parties enter the wreck, they soon discover quite a few survivors that apparently managed to stay out of sight in the first film. Among them are the belligerent Mr. Mezzetti who’s searching for his daughter; the ship’s nurse Ms. Rowe; the blind Mr. Meredith and his wife; and an apparently drunk Texan millionaire who immediately earns the clever nickname Tex.
If the first film gave you the impression that the Poseidon was slowly but unstoppably being flooded, you may have to think again. I was a bit surprised to see that this time around, most of the wreck’s interior seems pretty dry. But maybe that’s just because you never really get any sense of direction in this film, thus never really understanding how deep into the ship the adventurers actually go (probably not very deep).
As this cast of random individuals has been established, the absurd plot starts to unravel. It is soon obvious that the so-called Dr. Svevo has a hidden agenda, and sure enough: he turns out to be a terrorist who has used the Poseidon to smuggle weapons and who is now out to collect his cargo. And we’re not only dealing with the usual guns and ammo, by the way: Dr. Svevo has an entire crate of plutonium waiting for him in the hold!
So Captain Mike’s quest turns into a two-pronged fight for survival: not only must he bring his crew and the survivors out of the wreck (their entrance was blocked when one of numerous random explosions rocked the ship), but he must also deal with Dr. Svevo and his henchmen who are trying to eliminate any witnesses to their dirty dealings. Yes, there will be gunfights. And if you ever want to see a model (Veronica Hamel, playing Dr. Svevo’s glamourous insider on the ship) kill a terrorist with a big ax inside an upside-down ocean liner, this is the film for you.
The harebrained plot is only one of the reasons that Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is such a mess. The dialogue is frequently ludicrous and the characters are painfully one-note. You actually feel kind of sad for a guy like Slim Pickens who has to deliver the atrocious lines written for “Tex”. (Slim pickings, indeed.) Character moments and supposedly emotional scenes are inserted at precisely the wrong moments, making them feel even more contrived than they otherwise would. At one point, Captain Mike and Celeste crawl into a tunnel to see where it leads. Suddenly Celeste breaks down and cries and opens her heart to the man who has been calling her “monkey” all through the film. Then, when he tells her she’s beautiful, everything is seemingly all right again. In the same vein, when the survivors are close to the outside and the suspense could reasonably be expected to peak, the plot pauses for ten minutes while various characters share their backstories with us. Um, thanks. Great timing.
This is a stupid, stupid film, and probably also a rather low-budget one as evidenced by the shoddy compositing work and the cheap-looking sets that come nowhere near the dirty, claustrophobic realism of the original film. Much of it actually looks like it was shot for television. The actors — and there are several likeable names here, including the always very cool Michael Caine — do what they can with what they’ve been given to work with, I suppose, but this was certainly not the proudest moment of any of their careers. I mean, poor old Karl Malden doesn’t even get a death scene, he just disappears!
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure does have some entertainment value, mostly having to do with good actors in bad circumstances and the general cheesiness of the proceedings, that prevents me from giving it absolute bottom rating. But if you’re not an avid genre fan, you’re best off skipping this one.