Sunday 19 February 2012

Movie Review: Poseidon (2006)

A film about a big boat without the big boat, Poseidon is what happens when computer technology is allowed to replace good film-making. While the thrills are there, a lot of what happens in Poseidon is hopelessly contrived, and the few external shots are entirely manufactured from bits and bytes.

Aboard the luxury cruise ship Poseidon carrying thousands of passengers, professional gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) meets New York's former Mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), a retired firefighter. Also on the grand boat as New Year's Eve approaches are Robert's daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel); the gay Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), who was recently dumped by his partner; stowaway Elena (Mia Maestro); and single mother Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) and her son Connor (Jimmy Bennett).

As the midnight celebrations die down, a giant rogue wave strikes the Poseidon, killing hundreds and turning the boat upside down in the water. The main banquet hall holds a giant air pocket and that is where most of the survivors are urged to stay. But a small group led by Dylan and Robert correctly believe the air pocket to be a death trap, and decide to venture upwards towards the bottom of the ship, now the only part that is above the water. They have to navigate numerous dangers to try and make it.

A questionable remake of 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, Poseidon is unfortunately not much more than an elaborate and mostly claustrophobic obstacle course, with the cast members shepherded along from one physical challenge to the next like mice in an upside down maze. Director Wolfgang Petersen is a master of squeezing tension out of confined wet spaces, and Poseidon completes his trilogy of peril-in-the-water movies that started with Das Boot (1981) and continued with The Perfect Storm (2000). The perils of Poseidon are undeniably exciting and well executed, and Peterson keeps tightening the tension screws with ever more creative puzzles that need to be solved for the survivors to make progress on their desperate journey through the bowels of the stricken boat.

But precious little time is allowed for any true human emotion to develop or connections to grow. The opening few minutes of the movie are almost as ridiculously scripted as the weekly guest star introductions on the Love Boat television series, and all that is revealed about the main characters is crammed into a few stiff scenes. Once the boat is upside down, the survivors stick to strictly predefined boundaries of behaviour, and eventually fade into the insignificant background behind the heartbreaking glory of a ship dying a slow death on its back. Destroyed grandeur, explosions, fire, floods, large falling obstacles, and floating dead bodies dominate the visual experience, and all the actors may as well be extras.

Josh Lucas gets it quickly and displays all the depth of an anonymous extra, trying but failing miserably to channel a Matthew McConaughy type persona. Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss add some talent but generally appear to be wondering how they ended up playing second fiddle to a rack of computers. Jacinda Barrett, Emmy Rossum, and Mia Maestro are largely wasted among the hardware, software and flood of masculinity required to lead the survivors to safety.

For all the complex and heart-pounding death traps that have to be negotiated, Poseidon is disappointingly mechanical, the actors swallowed up by the spectacle, and the spectacle devoured by enough processing power to sink a large ship.

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