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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Poseidon

On Friday I realized just how much I missed Shelley Winters’ granny panties. Now I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about dead celebrities’ undergarments, but I went to the Essex Cinemas to see Poseidon, the latest film from director Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot; A Perfect Storm) and I realized that no matter how good this version of The Poseidon Adventure might be, it could never top giving us the sight of Shelley Winters showing off her swimming prowess and her extra large bloomers as she made her way through the flooded corridors of the rapidly sinking ship. That was 1972, and the film is still considered a classic of the disaster movie genre by most moviegoers, so it came as a surprise to me to think that there might be any groundswell in America clamoring for another remake. There already was a dreadful miniseries rehashed by NBC last year starring C. Thomas Howell that was so bad it made my eyes bleed, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to turn our world upside down again with a second remake in as many years, but I was willing to give it a try even though I knew going in I was going to resent a lack of the talented and rotund Shelley Winters. They could have called me. After thirty four years and an extra hundred pounds, I could have easily filled her role and would have gladly done it. I’d have even credited Shelley in my Oscar acceptance speech, but, such is life; here I was in the audience and there it was, fat free but water-logged all the same on the big screen without me.

This Poseidon is much bigger than its’ previous incarnations, a HUGE super-sized luxury liner that makes the Titanic look puny by comparison. Of course, any comparison to that ship is probably a bad omen and anyone familiar with the Poseidon knows it is doomed to meet a similar fate. In this case, however, instead of an iceberg sinking the ship, the Poseidon is capsized by an enormous rogue wave that overcomes it without warning. Apparently even though the Poseidon is the biggest and the best ship on the seas, and with a state-of-the-art GPS tracking system, as the Captain tells us, it doesn’t have radar or a warning system that can alert the crew ahead of time that a 90 foot wall of water is rolling its’ way. They must have spent that part of the budget to hire Stacy Ferguson aka Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas as the ship’s lounge singer.

What follows after the wave hits is the life-or-death struggle of a handful of assorted passengers through the fiery, waterlogged bowels of the overturned vessel, as they attempt to reach and escape through one of the bow thrusters. But who are these people?

That is the biggest problem this Poseidon has going for it. The original featured such vivid and complex characters that they are remembered even after all these years. There was Gene Hackman’s Reverend Scott, struggling with his failing faith, the Rosens, played by Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson, the elderly Jewish couple celebrating their 50th anniversary together, and the Rogos, a retired New York cop and his former prostitute wife, deliciously played by Ernest Borgnine and Stella Stevens. Here the cast is introduced in vignettes so brief that character development is nearly non-existent and it is even hard to remember their names.

Maybe that is Peterson’s plan for the Attention Deficit Disorder Generation. Why bother with storylines and “feelings” for people when you can simply use them as props to be put in peril instead?

So this time around we have Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas, Glory Road; Sweet Home Alabama), a professional gambler who had originally set out to escape alone but finds himself suddenly leader to a group of hangers-on, including Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell, Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story; Miracle), the overprotective father of Jennifer (Emily Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera), who is secretly engaged to Christian (Mike Vogel, Rumor Has It) despite her father’s seeming disapproval of their relationship; Maggie (Jacinda Barrett, Ripley Under Ground), a single mother onboard with her nine-year old son Conor (Jimmy Bennett, Firewall), Richard (Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland’s
Opus), a gay man who is despondent, having just been dumped by his longtime partner, Elena (Mia Maestro, Deepwater), a stowaway on her way to New York to see her brother who is in the hospital, Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon, tv’s Entourage), a bitter, drunken card shark, and Marco (Freddy Rodriguez, tv’s Six Feet Under), the staff waiter who has been housing Elena in his quarters. This is basically all the information and characterization bestowed on the actors, who are really required to do nothing for the two hour spectacular except scream and swim, and, occasionally, drown.

This is not to say that the movie is not exciting and definitely intense. From the moment the ship flips the film presents an incredible portrait of a grim and realistic-looking disaster that is years beyond The Poseidon Adventure in gore and carnage. Unlike its’ predecessor, Poseidon is riddled with corpses galore, whether barbecued in flash fires, electrocuted in nightclubs, crushed by falling debris, impaled on twisted metal, or just overcome by drowning. Our intrepid band of survivors face as many dead bodies as it does seemingly immovable objects blocking their way on the long journey to their salvation, but they face all with bravery and seemingly tireless energy. Each room they enter brings a different challenge with a gripping urgency that is all the more heightened as the quickness of the rising water intensifies and it moves closer and closer to engulfing them.

Poseidon may be a bit of a disappointment to some fans of Peterson, whose previous waterworks focused as strongly on who the characters were and how their predicament was affecting and would change them should they survive their ordeal. Here he is clearly more fascinated by the computer generated effects he was able to use to make his ship sink with the most vivid shots he could imagine. However, for fans looking for a splashy spectacle long on explosions and floods, this is exactly the movie that will leave them swimming in happiness at least until X Men 3: The Last Stand explodes onto the screen at the Essex Cinemas in two weeks.

Me? I thought Poseidon was a fun ride, but I still missed Shelley Winters. And her gigantic granny panties.

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