Movie Mom

This remake is so stripped down it doesn’t even have time for two of the three words of the original: this isn’t The Poseidon Adventure — it’s just “Poseidon.” If they remake it, it will be called “Pos.” Top-notch action director Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force One, Das Boot) gets the two most important things right in this thrill ride of an update on the corny classic.

First, the special effects are stunning. It is astonishing how far the technology has come even since Peterson’s The Perfect Storm. The effects are the star of the movie and, with a couple of exceptions, they are so powerfully vertiginously believeable that audiences looking for the roller-coaster sensation of controlled chaos will happily spill their popcorn.

Second, Peterson is a master of pacing, knowing exactly how much tension to string out before a crash or a laugh or a twist is needed to let audiences catch their breath, even if it’s a gasp. The characters and plot are stripped down to the basics to keep the action center stage.

It operates like a well-designed wind-up toy. A few cranks of the plot key efficiently introduce the characters and the story shoots out in a straight line retaining its top speed until the end. Here is the entire movie: an enormous ocean liner hit with a “rogue wave” flips over and just about every character played by an actor whose name is in the opening credits, each with some knowledge, experience, ability, or tool that will prove crucial, spends the next 90 minutes trying to find a way off the ship, while a lot of stuff crashes, explodes, floods, and ignites all around them.

Peterson wisely relies on the appeal of his cast rather than the script to carry our interest. All we need to know about each of them is (1) what he or she has to contribute, and (2) what he or she has to triumph over. All of that is neatly laid out and just as neatly tied up without getting in the way of (1) the special effects and (2) the action, though some insensitivity to diversity issues is careless and distracting.

An architect (Richard Dreyfus), a fire fighter-turned mayor (Kurt Russell), a Naval veteran-turned gambler (Josh Lucas), a single mom (Jacinda Barrett) with her son, a steward (Freddy Rodriguez) and a stowaway (Mia Maestro) — for tonight’s performance their skills play the role normally played by those gadgets that Q hands out to James Bond. We know what they can do. The fun is seeing how each of them will be required.

A character who contemplated suicide will find why and how much he wants to stay alive. A character who can’t let go of what matters most to him learns that letting go can be the best way to hold on. Characters learn what they are capable of — whether it means great sacrifice on behalf of the group or devastating choices to ensure survival.

But mostly, it’s about the special effects and the stunts, which are, for all the good and bad that implies and with the significant and jarring exception noted in the spoiler below, the best of what Hollywood has to offer when it comes to summer action films. As for the dialogue — well, someday I forsee a college drinking game that will require everyone to take a swig every time someone says something like, “Do it or we DIE!”

Parents should know the movie has non-stop intense peril and violence, some quite graphic. Characters are injured and killed and there are many dead bodies. Characters drink and at least one gets inebriated. There are sexual references, some crude, including the exchange of sexual favors for other benefits. SPOILER ALERT: A serious problem with the movie is its portrayal of the minority characters. While the white leads are professionals, the two Hispanics are a steward and a stowaway, both sacrificed to move the plot along and keep the white characters alive. A strength of the movie is the low-key, positive portrayal of a gay character.

Families who see this movie should talk about the decisions made by Nelson and Ramsey — what went through their minds as they evaluated their options?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original, as well as disaster film classic The Towering Inferno.

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