There are few things more pitiful than a movie that thinks it’s being serious when in fact it’s being very, very funny. “Poseidon” is one of those movies, a rushed, unintentionally silly retread of 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure” that feels more like a parody. It does for disaster movies what “Airplane!” did for disaster movies.
It is, as you know, the tale of a gigantic cruise ship that gets turned upside-down by a tidal wave, drastically interrupting the New Year’s Eve party the rich people onboard were having. Of the thousand or so passengers and crew members on the ship, most are killed right away in the tumult. The survivors are all in the ballroom — where for some reason the woman from Black Eyed Peas has been performing, which strikes me as the very opposite of an elegant New Year’s Eve celebration — and Capt. Bradford (Andre Braugher) urges them to stay there until rescuers come.
But Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), a rogue-ish high-roller Han Solo type, doesn’t think an upside-down ship will stay afloat long enough for help to arrive. He intends to climb up to the bottom of the vessel and seek rescue that way. He only wants to take care of Numero Uno, but somehow a group of survivors winds up accompanying him on the perilous trek through elevator shafts, fiery hallways and submerged tunnels.
The group includes former New York mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), her respectful fiance Christian (Mike Vogel), a single mom named Maggie (Jacinda Barrett), her little boy Conor (Jimmy Bennett), a stowaway named Elena (Mia Maestro), an oily sleazeball named Larry (Kevin Dillon), and Richard Dreyfuss. For no discernible reason, Dreyfuss’ character is gay and suicidal, traits that are mentioned in the film’s brief get-to-know-everyone, pre-tidal-wave phase, and then never brought up again.
There’s a lot of that, actually. I hesitate to suggest that any movie should be LONGER than it is, but this one’s only 94 minutes without the credits, and it feels hasty. Screenwriter Mark Protosevich (loosely adapting Paul Gallico’s novel) didn’t want the potential victims to be nobodies … but he didn’t expend enough effort in establishing them as real characters, either. (That, or the scenes that would have contributed something were deleted.) The dialogue is that cheesy disaster-speak where you can practically hear the exclamation points at the end of every sentence, and the people are one-dimensional “types.”
Wolfgang Petersen is a competent, at times very entertaining director (“The Perfect Storm,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Enemy Mine”), but here he has everything happening so fast that it becomes absurd, like a condensed speed-through version of a gripping adventure flick. Remember those Hollywood Video “60 Second Theater” radio ads, where a big film is ridiculously boiled down to one minute? Or the hilarious and truly brilliant “Shorter, Harsher ‘Titanic'” that anonymously circulated the Internet several years ago? That’s what “Poseidon” feels like.
That said, many of the action scenes are intense, and sometimes even suspenseful. But they’re curiously unaffecting: Whether the hardy survivors can get through this tight air vent, or across that treacherous open space, or past those deadly flames, it doesn’t feel like it matters. And this isn’t a movie where the victims aren’t important because we’re supposed to enjoy watching them die. It’s the other kind, where we’re supposed to root for them to live. And yet we don’t care. How’s that for upside-down?
C- (1 hr., 39 min.; )