Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Summer 2006- Your mission......

The 2006 summer movie season has now begun with the early May release of the action movie MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 and the slightly retro disaster epic POSEIDON. Of the two POSEIDON is the better film if only because it doesn’t have the third act slide into cartoonish unbelievability that MI3 revels in. Mr. Cruise does a good job of selling everything that happens to his character but the second instance of laying in the road to pass underneath an automobile was asking a bit too much. As was the ‘resurrection’ scene as well. And just what the hell was the villain up to in this movie any way? Oh well. None of the MI films have been very good so although this one is better overall than the first two, that alone doesn’t make it wonderful. But it is a solid summer blockbuster. Your memories of it will self-destruct by the time you take that post movie trip to the restroom.

POSEIDON is worth more comment. This being a remake it falls prey to the usual ‘which is better ‘debate which often misses the point. There are always those that will claim the original is better just because it was first or out of a sense of nostalgia. But this new film has plenty of elements that make it a fine contender for the small group of worthwhile recent retoolings. I’ll say up front that I’ve never been a big fan of the 1972 film THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. I don’t think it’s aggressively bad but its cheesy silliness is a bit too much for me. The film was overlong, overwrought and often overacted. Indeed I suspect that the phrase ‘going for the Oscar’ may have its origins in the original film. The remake corrects most of these problems but it still only manages to be a pretty good film and it’s far from perfect. I just don’t think greatness is possible with this story. The actors do a fine job for the most part with only Kevin Dillon being problematic. His character seems to have been air lifted in from an Adam Sandler movie and his demise is the movie’s one truly silly/stupid moment. It’s as if the hand of God decided to smack the twit down. Sadly, this jerk-wad character is one of the few to evoke any real emotions in the audience. Most of the other people are just chalk outlines where a real person might have been if the film was really interested in doing more than being a spectacle.

Bucking the trend of the past few years POSEIDON clocks in at less than 2 hours, which was quite a shock. I fully expected a 140 minute running time at the bare minimum but it seems the thinking must have gone to lean & mean for which I am thankful. The film does exhibit another recent Hollywood problem though- the dreaded PG-13-itis. That is to say, it shies away from the more harsh or violent elements of the action to keep from getting the box office smothering R rating. This is most evident in some of the bigger scenes of death and carnage when shots of mayhem end just before some grotesque bit of bodily devastation happens. This leads to some storytelling sloppiness when on a couple of occasions this trimming makes the events onscreen more obscure than they should be. At one point my girlfriend asked me in a hushed voice if all of a group of people had been killed and I had to confess that I couldn’t be certain. I’m sure that a slightly longer version (labeled unrated) will pop up on DVD in the near future with a little extra blood and gore for those interested.

Among some of the smart modern upgrades on view is a logical reason for the fellow leading the survivors to the bottom of the ship. He’s an ex-Navy man aware of way out through the propulsion shafts. Kurt Russell's character is an ex-fireman so his skills come in handy as well. I was glad there is no self-doubting priest here to make that awkward struggle with his faith. Not even Gene Hackman made that character palatable in the original. Also, the gay character is obviously gay instead of it just being implied as it was in the original. I’m sure there are still folks who saw the ‘72 film wondering what the deal with Red Buttons is.

Of course, this being a disaster film there are moments that strain credulity especially with the length of time some people are underwater. And there came a time when I actually wanted to scream ‘Just let the kid drown, dammit!’ But the film is really not bad at all. The CGI effects were quite good especially when the wave first strikes the ship, and the film never overstays its welcome deftly moving from one tense set-piece to the next. These two things alone make it a step up from many of the summer movies of last year. So- not a great start to the Summer season of big movie fun but not terrible. And I saw some nice trailers......

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