The Perfect Sturm und Drang
“There’s nothing fair about who lives and who dies,” says manly Kurt Russell to manly Josh Lucas in Poseidon, trying to buck up the younger guy who I am shocked — shocked! — to report starts out the movie not giving a shit about anyone but himself but gradually begins to care, dammit, care! about the people he let himself reluctantly be talked into trying to rescue.
Nothing fair, no, but it is damn fun, for the audience and, presumably, for the quite respectable cast slumming it just a bit in this cheesy disaster flick. You almost have to place bets before the film starts on who will die nobly and heroically in the cause of saving the lives of others, and on who will die ignominiously and pointlessly and perhaps even in a cowardly manner. And that has got to be why Serious Actors accept roles in movies like this: “Hey, cool! I get to plummet to my death into a fiery pool of burning fuel!” And also it helps pay the mortgage and maybe the kids’ college.
Cuz this ain’t no Titanic, which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about Cameron’s epic, but whichever way you swing, you have to admit that Titanic had serious ambitions about speaking to humanity’s arrogance in the face of nature, et cetera — it’s not, whether it succeeds or fails, merely an exploitive disaster movie. It practically anticipates the hand wringing and humility of the post-9/11 entertainment world with respect to violence and disaster on film.
Poseidon has no idea that 9/11 happened, which is refreshing, in a kind of way — it just wants to be Hollywood brainless and old-fashioned about putting gorgeous people in danger and blowing stuff up real good (who knew there was so much on a cruise ship that could explode so spectacularly?), and so harkens back to the day when we could all enjoy seeing beautiful and handsome movie stars die dramatically for our entertainment. As mindless distraction goes, Poseidon is pretty unbeatable.
Sure, there is plenty horrifying imagery of bodies plummeting to their deaths into, you know, fiery pools of burning fuel, and live people digging themselves out from under corpses and such after the cruise ship Poseidon gets hit with a “rogue wave” and gets turned upside down and kills almost everyone except the gang in the giant ballroom celebrating New Year’s Eve on the high seas. But the real fun in Poseidon comes in the movie-geekiness of it, in the can’t-help-it comparisons to the 1972 flick of which is this sorta a remake, but kinda not really either: What, no giant Christmas tree in the ballroom to climb up? What, no bow-or-stern argument? Who will be the Gene Hackman stand-in? Is it Josh (An Unfinished Life, Stealth), as Dylan, the professional gambler-slash-total realist? Who will be Red Buttons? Is it Richard Dreyfuss (Silver City, Who Is Cletis Tout?) as The Gay Guy who was about to jump off the ship over a doomed romance and, seeing the rogue wave approaching, decides he wants to live after all? Who will be Ernest Borgnine? Is it Kurt (Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, Sky High), the former mayor of New York? Who will get to do the Shelley Winters Memorial Swim?
And there will be a morning after, right? I mean, there’s got to be, hasn’t there?
It’s all so badly written, in a lot of ways: the hilariously awful dialog, the convenience of Josh’s gambler having been in the Navy and so having all this information at his fingertips about ships, and Kurt’s mayor having been a fireman and so having all this info at his fingertips about how flash fires work. And then comes the can’t-help-it movie-geekiness that says, Hey, wasn’t Kurt a fireman in Backdraft? Yes, he was. And wasn’t Josh a naval officer in U-571? No, that was his evil twin Matthew McConaughey. And didn’t director Wolfgang Petersen (Troy) use a rogue wave as his villain in The Perfect Storm? Yes, he did.
Mostly, though, the question we are left with after Poseidon is, Damn, can Josh Lucas’s eyes really be that impossibly blue? Why yes, yes they can.