The ''Waterworld'' director proves with ''187'' that even small budget films can cause big headaches

Rain has delay-ed the helicopter shot — a sweeping panorama of the Brooklyn Bridge that director Kevin Reynolds hopes to use as the opening scene of his new inner-city drama, 187. Dozens of bored extras huddle under umbrellas, smoking cigarettes. The director fidgets miserably around the cameras.

”Water,” he sighs. ”I’m cursed by water.”

Maybe not cursed, but definitely tormented. Reynolds’ last film, after all, was the 1995 Kevin Costner-in-gills fiasco Waterworld. Infamously over budget, plagued by bad press (The Wall Street Journal even ran an expose on the lack of toilets on the set), and racked by battles between the director and the star (Reynolds walked off the film during editing and hasn’t spoken to Costner since), the movie became a Hollywood synonym for cinematic disaster — even if it did ultimately earn $260 million worldwide.

Waterworld was very tough on Kevin,” says his longtime agent, Mike Simpson. ”It drained him, emotionally and physically. The stuff with Costner. The weather problems. The press. Plus, he has this hair-trigger seasickness….”

Unsurprisingly, 187, which stars Samuel L. Jackson as a New York City high school teacher who relocates to L.A. after getting stabbed by a student, is an entirely landlocked production. Packed with grimly colorful street-speak (the title refers to police code for murder), it cost a scant $23 million — barely enough to cover Waterworld’s Dramamine bills.

”I knew I wanted to do something small,” says Reynolds, 45, months after the shoot. ”I wanted to pay attention to detail and nuance in a way that I couldn’t on Waterworld, where it’s all about the enormous headache of making sure you’ve got 500 extras where they should be. I needed to do a movie that I felt passionate about. I wanted to restore my soul as a filmmaker.”

187 hasn’t been Reynolds’ only initiative in the soul-restoring department. During Waterworld‘s darkest hours, he moved his family — wife LaTanya and daughter Zoe, 15 — from Los Angeles to Seattle, a change of scenery that may explain his philosophic outlook on the Zen of filmmaking. ”If you stay bitter, you destroy yourself,” he offers. ”You have to weather the storms. You have to learn from what’s happened to you.”

One thing Reynolds has clearly learned is how to deal with the press. He’s become a master in the art of using unquotable body language to dodge uncomfortable inquiries. Question: Is he worried that an Event Movie factory like Warner Bros. may be lost when it comes to distributing a smaller, edgier flick — since the studio has sat on the finished film for five months? Answer: Reynolds lifts a finger, points it right on the nose, and smiles silently.

Another lesson he’s learned: Sometimes even little movies can cause enormous headaches. Back on the Brooklyn Bridge, the rain has stopped, but a new crisis has developed — there aren’t enough extras for the scene. Bodies are plucked from the crew; even a visiting reporter is drafted for work. For the rest of the day, extras crisscross the East River while a helicopter films from above. It turns out to be a painless shoot after all. But one thing hasn’t changed — there aren’t enough toilets on the set.