Bad Movies Done Right – Poseidon

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: The greatest (lack of) adventure!

It’s telling that word “adventure” was dropped from Poseidon, the 2006 adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel The Poseidon Adventure — a book that also inspired a 1972 film of the same name.

There is no adventure in Poseidon, director Wolfgang Petersen’s laborious paint-by-numbers disaster movie. Instead, the film contains a series of tiresome manufactured dangers designed to chip away at a cast of unlikeable potential survivors and simultaneously show just what special effects can accomplish nowadays.

Like the novel and its previous adaptations, Poseidon details the hellish night experienced by a group of passengers aboard the MS Poseidon, a luxury cruise ship. When a 150-foot rouge wave strikes the ship, the Poseidon is capsized — marking certain death for the majority of the ship’s passengers.

The film follows the attempt of a dozen or so passengers to escape the quickly sinking ship and find rescue.

Kurt Russell stars as Robert Ramsey, a former firefighter and ex-mayor of New York City. He is on board the ship with his daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend (Mike Vogel). Much like a movie will use a classic rock song to instantly achieve a sense of nostalgia in its audience, Poseidon uses the classic disaster movie scenario of having a single father attempt to rescue his teenage child and the person they love as a way of attempting emotional investment in a film’s characters without actually having to do any work.

Josh Lucas plays Dylan Johns, a professional gambler whose desire to save his own hide is the catalyst that sends the group of passengers through the bowels of the ship looking for salvation. Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Dillon and Freddy Rodriguez also play survivors in the group. Meanwhile Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson and Andre Braugher make appearances as doomed members of the ship’s crew.

Poseidon‘s biggest weakness is the fact that more concern is given to the movie’s elaborate special effects and computer generated carnage than to actually developing characters that audiences will care about. Brief hints at the characters back stories are given in the first thirty minutes of the film but, once the proverbial shit begins to hit the fan, all concern about fleshing out the characters is thrown out with the bath water.

Instead, characters are shoehorned into disaster-born relationships without much explanation or believability. More so, when the characters begin to commit the (admittedly realistic) selfish acts that cause them to survive as long as they do, audiences will have a hard time rooting for their rescue. It’s one thing to build your movie around a group of well written, engaging assholes. It’s another thing to attempt this with your generic run of the mill idiots.

The movie’s main group of survivors band together when they decide that the ship captain’s plan to hang out in the ballroom until rescue arrives is not a good idea. Lucas and Dreyfus’ characters both have past experience that leads them to believe that the ship is structurally unsound and their best course of action is to escape.

Instead of sharing that information with the rest of the ship’s passengers, though, the group slips out a side door and abandons the general populace to their watery deaths.

This is just the first selfish act that the film’s “heroes” make throughout the course of the movie. A handful of characters’ deaths are either directly or indirectly caused by other characters trying to save their own lives.

These selfish actions from shallow characters aren’t of any concern to director Peterson, though. The director of such film as Air Force One and The Neverending Story seems to be sleepwalking his way through his job of directing the movie — perking up only when it’s time to destroy something with his computers.

Speaking of sleepwalking, the film’s cast is filled with genuinely talented actors yet none of them seem to be trying to bring anything real to the table. Maybe it’s to blame on the lack of fleshed-out characters they found on the page or the fact that, to most, Poseidon just meant a paycheck. Either way, none of the actors — not even the normally reliable Kurt Russell — seem to be trying at all.

Russell’s character is your standard, run-of-the-mill concerned father — distrustful of his daughters’ boyfriend yet willing to sacrifice everything to make sure they have a happy life together. Replace a sinking ship with an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and Bruce Willis could have played the role.

In fact, all of the actors seem like they could be completely replaceable in their roles — the parts could have even been played by direct-to-DVD veterans such as C. Thomas Howell or Cuba Gooding Jr. and nobody would have batted an eye.

I have no problem with disaster movies that put more focus on the action than the melodrama. For most audiences, carnage is what they come to see. There needs to be a balance, though. Its’ hard to invest yourself into a movie as bombastic and in-your-face as Poseidon if you don’t have characters you want to see make it out alive. Without a little work in the front-end of the movie developing believable relationships, there is no reason why anybody is going to give two flips whether or not the heroes make it out of the ship or drown trying.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe with Poseidon — the utter predictability of characters’ deaths. It’s been a joke for sometime now that minorities are always the first to go in horror movies. Apparently this also extends to disaster movies.

Looking at the initial group of survivors that sets out for safety in Poseidon, it quickly becomes obvious which of the group is going to make it out alive and which are going to be the film’s equivalent of Star Trek‘s red shirts.

Of course, the young mother and her son aren’t going to die. That would be too sad and un-Hollywood. Likewise for the young lovers.

The Hispanic kitchen worker, though? He’s prime target for a falling elevator. The drunken buffoon doesn’t have much of a chance either.

This problem goes back to my point about developing characters better for better results. If Peterson and his writers had spent more time building up all the characters equally and investing them with some emotional weight instead of filling the story’s gaps with one-note stereotypes, it would have been a lot more of an emotional roller coaster when characters started succumbing to the dangers found on the sinking ship.

But that wasn’t what Peterson set out to do. Poseidon is a film that achieves exactly what it wanted to — present a fluffy popcorn flick that showcases the latest in SFX advances. It wasn’t mean to challenge viewers or even leave them with an impression after the credits rolled and the film ended. Poseidon is the film equivalent of Chinese food.

Robert Saucedo wishes he had a name as cool as Wolfgang. Maybe then he would get the chicks. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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