Nobody gets to decide whether to accept the mission in Poseidon or not; that’s one of the many attractions of this excellently undemanding, swimmingly enjoyable remake of that perfectly glugging 1972 uh-oh classic, The Poseidon Adventure. No image-rehabilitating Cruise derring-do is expected from the partying cruise passengers whose lives are turned upside down. No exponentially clever twists of plot are expected by the partying audience either, except the inevitability that a few characters will perish and others will look good wet.
Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon delivers all of this — it’s a buoyant, old-wave disaster pic for a generation of well-conditioned thrill seekers charmed by the revelation that Richard Dreyfuss really is the Red Buttons of our day. Nice touch too: The ambivalent leader once played by Gene Hackman as a liberal minister who looks groovy with a comb-over is now played by Josh Lucas as a professional gambler who looks great in a tuxedo.
Anyhow, the whole notion of disaster preparedness has changed since back in the day when Shelley Winters showed off her underwater swimming skills as the Jewess with the best lungs this side of Beverly Sills. Back then, we really could believe there’s got to be a morning after; rogue anythings weren’t trained by al-Qaeda, and global warming wasn’t a suspect in the catastrophic disruption of weather patterns. And wisely, the fellow who made Das Boot and The Perfect Storm runs a tight ship, aware that the remaking of a classic doesn’t require the running time of Titanic.
Opening with a tour de force seamless shot that follows a jogger along the deck and up some stairs and up and up until the colossal scale of the doomed floating city comes into focus, Petersen, like Poseidon Adventure director Ronald Neame before him, wastes no time in establishing bearings. The jogger is Lucas’ Dylan Johns, and within 20 minutes, every other principal character is accounted for, including the former firefighter and ex?NYC mayor Robert Ramsay (Kurt Russell, rolling two heroic 9/11 jobs into one), his lovely, stubborn daughter, Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), and her fresh-faced fiancé, Christian (Mike Vogel); the gay architect (Dreyfuss) nursing a broken heart; the single mom (Ladder 49‘s Jacinda Barrett) with the spunky kid (Jimmy Bennett); the good-hearted Hispanic waiter (Six Feet Under‘s Freddy Rodriguez) and his stowaway friend (Mia Maestro); the ship’s captain (Andre Braugher); and, uh, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas — I mean, Stacy Ferguson — playing a shipboard chanteuse. Oh, and Kevin Dillon playing Entourage‘s Johnny ”Drama” playing a jerk who calls himself Lucky Larry.
Them’s the players. Minutes later, the great New Year’s Eve heave is under way. One moment, some worried chap in the control room is saying, ”Do you feel that? Something’s off.” And the next moment, it’s ”No! No!” while we, of course, cheer, Yes, yes! First the water. Then, the fires (flash, fireball, long-burning — your choice), followed by the electrocutions, impalings, charrings, drownings, crushings of the faceless many, both in the ballroom (where the fancy older folks flounder) and the disco (where Jen and Chris reunite, sooty but alive). Quickly, there’s a sorting out of who’s in for the longer haul, and the demonstration of various skills and fears. ”I used to be a fireman. He’s gonna be okay,” the former mayor assures one panicked citizen, while Elena (Maestro) displays the prayerfulness of an observant Catholic — and the panic of a lady with acute claustrophobia. Dreyfuss’ architect, meanwhile, proves to be patient, comforting, and brave. And in his lovely portrayal, the actor holds the center of every scene he’s in. And then: It’s all about the escape, stupid.
Nothing exactly replicates the original, but then nothing is exactly different either — in a good way. Some routes out of the hull are successful — forged by Dylan (who doesn’t want any followers, but who also can’t resist a pretty mom and chirpy kid) and by Ramsay (who vies for alpha male status with the younger man, Russell’s steely manner contrasted with Lucas’ more improvisatory blue-eyed charm). Other routes go terribly wrong. Working from a script by The Cell‘s Mark Protosevich, with lots of notes, no doubt, from many producers, including Sheila Allen, widow of original producer Irwin Allen, Petersen knows when to pause for detail (Elena’s necklace cross, for instance, makes a crucial screwdriver) before barreling full steam ahead. Less than a hundred minutes later, some folks are saved. Others aren’t. Life should only be so simple.