Based on a 1972 movie that jump-started that decade's cycle of disaster films, Poseidon arrives with thirty years' worth of advanced special effects and a director whose seagoing films already include Das Boot and The Perfect Storm. While it makes some concessions to the present (such as GPS locators and cell phones), what's most surprising about Poseidon is how old-fashioned it is.
The opening introduces a smattering of the passengers and crew aboard a mighty ocean liner. Divorcée Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), a former mayor of New York City, is vacationing with his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), who is too afraid of her dad's reaction to announce her engagement to Christian (Mike Vogel). Stowaway Elena (Mia Maestro) meets her boyfriend Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez) in the ship's galley. Professional gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) befriends young Conor James (Jimmy Bennett) and his glamorous mother Maggie (Jacinda Barrett). Also wandering around are Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), a suicidal gay architect, and "Lucky Larry" (Kevin Dillon), a foolhardy alcoholic. As the captain (Andre Braugher) prepares his New Year's toast in the Poseidon ballroom, his officers on the bridge notice a giant rogue wave approaching the ship.
As in the original Poseidon Adventure, these opening scenes are dishearteningly stiff and awkward. Once the wave hits, however, director Wolfgang Petersen gets down to business. As the ship slowly rolls over, death and destruction follow, captured with close attention to detail but with thankfully little outright gore. Then it's just a question of sending a small band of survivors through a prolonged episode of Fear Factor.
Petersen leans more on stunt work than CGI for the big set pieces, and the human touch adds a sense of danger that's often missing from adventure films. The director alternates action scenes with some quieter moments, but Poseidon is not about introspection. It's about scaring viewers by blowing things up, and complaining that it is superficial and escapist is like complaining that the ocean is wet. The only issues that matter here are basic ones, like which cast member will succumb first. The kid? The stowaway? The ingénue?
The cast does what it can with roles that are barely sketched in. Peterson also does what he can with a script that gets more waterlogged as it progresses, but he deserves credit for never trying to pretend that Poseidon is anything more than a disaster film. Credible it may not be, but it is certainly always watchable.
Cast and credits
Cast: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Dillon, Jacinda Barrett, Emmy Rossum, Mike Vogel, Mia Maestro, Jimmy Bennett, Andre Braugher, Freddy Rodriguez, Stacy Ferguson.
Credits: Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich. Based on the novel by Paul Gallico. Produced by Wolfgang Petersen, Duncan Henderson, Mike Fleiss, Akiva Goldsman. Executive producers: Kevin Burns, Jon Jashni, Sheila Allen, Benjamin Waisbren. Director of photography: John Seale. Production designer: William Sandell. Edited by Peter Honess. Music by Klaus Badelt. Costume designer: Erica Edell Phillips. Musical supervisor: Maureen Crowe. Visual effects supervisor: Boyd Shermis. Co-producers: Todd Arnow, Kimberly Miller, Chris Briggs. A Warner Bros. presentation, in association with Virtual Studios, of a Radiant Production, Next Entertainment, Irwin Allen Productions, and Synthesis Entertainment production.