"There's nothing fair about who lives and who dies," says manly Kurt Russell to manly Josh Lucas in Poseidon, trying to buck up the younger guy who I am shocked — shocked! — to report starts out the movie not giving a damn about anyone but himself but gradually begins to care about the people he reluctantly agrees to rescue.
Nothing fair, no, but it is plenty of fun — for the audience and, presumably, for the quite respectable cast slumming it just a bit in this cheesy disaster flick. You almost have to place bets before the film starts on who will die nobly and heroically in the cause of saving the lives of others and on who will die ignominiously and pointlessly, perhaps even in a cowardly manner. That must be why serious actors accept roles in movies like this: "Hey, cool! I get to plummet to my death into a fiery pool of burning fuel!" And also it helps pay the mortgage and maybe the kids' college.
But this ain't no Titanic. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about Cameron's epic, but whichever way you swing, you have to admit that Titanic had serious ambitions about speaking to humanity's arrogance in the face of nature. It's not, whether it succeeds or fails, merely an exploitive disaster movie.
It practically anticipates the hand-wringing and humility of the post-9/11 entertainment world with respect to violence and disaster on film.
Poseidon has no idea that 9/11 happened, which is refreshing in a way. It just wants to be Hollywood brainless and old-fashioned about putting gorgeous people in danger and blowing stuff up — who knew there was so much on a cruise ship that could explode so spectacularly? — and thus harkens back to the day when we could all enjoy seeing beautiful and handsome movie stars die dramatically for our entertainment.
As mindless distraction goes, Poseidon is pretty unbeatable. Sure, there is horrifying imagery of bodies falling to their deaths, and people digging themselves out from under corpses and such after the cruise ship gets turned upside down by a "rogue wave," killing almost everyone except the gang in the giant ballroom celebrating New Year's Eve on the high seas. But the real fun in Poseidon comes in the movie-geeky, can't-help-it comparisons to the 1972 flick of which is this sort-of-but-not-really a remake.
What, no giant Christmas tree in the ballroom on which to climb? What, no bow-or-stern argument? Who will be the Gene Hackman stand-in? Is it Lucas, as Dylan, the pro-gambler-slash-total-realist? Who will be Red Buttons? Is it Richard Dreyfuss as The Gay Guy who was about to jump off the ship over a doomed romance and, seeing the wave approaching, decides he wants to live after all? Who will be Ernest Borgnine? Is it Russell, the former mayor of New York? Who will get to do the Shelley Winters Memorial Swim?
And there will be a morning after, right? I mean, there has to be, hasn't there?
It's all so badly written, in a lot of ways: the hilariously awful dialogue, the convenience of Lucas's gambler having been in the Navy and so having all this information at his fingertips about ships, and Russell's mayor having been a fireman, thus having all this experience about how flash fires work. And then comes the can't-help-it movie-geekiness that says, "Hey, wasn't Russell a fireman in Backdraft? Yes, he was. And wasn't Lucas a naval officer in U-571? No, that was his evil twin Matthew McConaughey. And didn't director Wolfgang Petersen use a rogue wave as his villain in A Perfect Storm? Yes, he did."
Mostly, though, the question we are left with after Poseidon is, "Damn, can Josh Lucas's eyes really be that blue?" Grade: C