Eric D. Snider

The Perfect Storm

"The Perfect Storm," which is ultimately a not-very-good movie, is basically a combination of "Twister" and "Armageddon" -- two other not-very-good movies.

It has a more intellectual and sophisticated look about it than those other movies; in fact, its tone is more like "Titanic" than a traditional summer action blockbuster. Director Wolfgang Peterson takes his sweet time setting things up, allowing us a full 30 minutes of exposition before any boats ever leave the dock.

The characters are a disparate group of swordfishermen in Gloucester, Mass., who decide to head out to sea on one more fishing trip before possibly hanging it up and finding more lucrative work. Since this is based on a true story -- and, again, keeping with the anti-blockbuster mentality -- the characters are fairly realistic and not the one-note caricatures you'd find in, say, "Armageddon."

The captain is Billy Tyne (George Clooney, looking old and weather-beaten, as befitting the role), a man who loves the sea and lives for fishing. If anyone's going to find a new profession, it's not going to be him. He has an ill-defined flirtatious friendship with fellow captain Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio); beyond that, he seems to be alone in the world.

His first mate Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) wants to settle down with his girlfriend (Diane Lane). Murph (John C. Reilly) is a big teddy bear of a man who misses his young son, whom he lost in a divorce. Bugsy (John Hawkes) is a scroungy fellow who wants a woman to have sex with him. Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne) is a Jamaican ladies' man. Sully (William Fichtner) is an odd guy who, for reasons unexplained, is at odds with Murph.

Which hints at how, despite its Grown-Up Movie musical score (by James Horner -- another "Titanic" connection) and un-sensationalized storytelling, "The Perfect Storm" is, at its heart, just another popcorn film. Sully and Murph are always bickering; it goes without saying, then, that Murph's life will be endangered and Sully will rescue him. Bobby's girlfriend has "bad feelings" about going his out on this trip. The scenes of a local weatherman (Chris McDonald) discovering the impending "Storm of the Century" are of the "May God save us all!" variety, straight out of "Independence Day" or any other disaster movie.

Our heroes, aboard the Andrea Gail, are out farther than the storm. They've caught enough fish to make them wealthy (well, in fisherman's terms, anyway) and have room for more, but then the ice-machine breaks. They have to hurry back to Gloucester before everything spoils -- which means going straight through the storm. They consider the option of staying put and waiting until the storm passes, but that would mean the loss of all their goods, and the dashing of all their dreams (most of which revolve around having money).

So they go for it, and of course all hell breaks loose.

The storm itself is a spectacular special effect, with enormous waves and hurricane winds. That, however, is not enough to sustain a movie -- and certainly not for 136 minutes. Padding out the over-long film are scenes of a small yacht and its three inhabitants being rescued by the Coast Guard, who soon find themselves in need of rescuing. One hates to sound calloused, but who cares? These aren't the main characters. If you need to show us that other people are affected by the storm, too, fine. Just do it quickly and move on. Honest to goodness, this movie spends a total of 20 minutes on these people, none of whose names we even find out.

Warner Bros. put a special note at the top of their press materials, asking critics not to reveal the ending of the film. That's a shame, because I'd really like to tell you how disappointing it is. Though the acting is good all around, our heroes' heroism is never fully established, and when it's all done, there's a strong sense of, "That's it?" What, exactly, were we supposed to feel? For as long as this movie spends showing us these guys, we never feel as attached to them as we'd like to, making their final triumph and/or failure (Warner Bros. doesn't want me to say which) a let-down. Up until the end, though, it's a reasonably entertaining (if somewhat repetitive) ride.

Grade: B-

Rated PG-13, frequent profanity, some sexual innuendo, weather-related intensity and violence

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