It turned out disaster movies could still be dopey fun after September 11 (see you The Day After Tomorrow!), but after United 93 ? Watching a band of terrified people trying not to die horribly in a confined space, under merciless time constraints, is not all spits and giggles even on a luxury cruise liner. If it’s hard to slaver at Poseidon’s spectacle of bodies being flung about, washed away, crushed, and impaled, at least the tension should yield cathartic thrills. But director Wolfgang Petersen — who’s whitened our knuckles with storms, assassins, epidemics, U–boats, and Homeric epic — wastes some excellent action bits with uncreative pacing, and some stop–short dialogue worse than the 1972 original.
After we’ve been introduced to the tragic passengers, and the wave hits, Poseidon looks to have a deliciously mercenary setup: Josh Lucas’s professional gambler initially wants to escape alone (unlike Gene Hackman’s preacher in the original, who wanted to lead), while Kurt Russell’s ex–New York mayor brashly buys off a waiter as a guide. Cynicism and cash — but despite one provocatively nasty act, the movie just feels like a particularly impressive obstacle course (and maybe, with Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, and a bunch of TV actors in the cast, a bit like a late–season Circus of the Stars).
You can hear the suspense problems in the score: it’s always there, bumpity–bumping along mindlessly, and predictably spiking to indicate scary corpses along the way. How the director of Das Boot could forget the value of dead time is a good question, but not the only one for a movie that can leave one feeling tired but unsatisfied.