A lot has changed since Paul Gallico's novel The Poseidon Adventure was first adapted in 1972, sparking a brief run of disaster pictures (The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, etc.) that pinned respectable actors to cheesy rear projection and awkward backstories. Once Jaws came along and officially introduced the modern-day blockbuster, technological innovations started yielding more realistic special effects and more refined, fast-paced entertainments were expected to replace the lumbering spectacles of old. And yet whenever disaster movies get a revival—as they have recently, with films such as Deep Impact, The Core, and The Day After Tomorrow—it's remarkable how graceless they continue to be, as if no time has passed since Irwin Allen's heyday. Director Wolfgang Petersen seemed like the right man for Poseidon, given his affinity for waterlogged thrillers like Das Boot and The Perfect Storm, but he can't keep the planks from groaning under all that excess tonnage.
Titanic without the metaphors, the class-consciousness, the love story, or anything resembling a theme, Poseidon invests so little in its screenplay that it might as well be an episode of The Love Boat gone horribly awry. Set aboard an enormous luxury liner that capsizes in the middle of the ocean on New Year's Eve, the film spends the first 20 minutes scrambling to sketch in the profiles of the few intrepid souls who try to survive the catastrophe. There's Kurt Russell, a former New York City mayor and firefighter who can now barely leverage enough influence to keep his daughter (Emmy Rossum) from dating the wrong guy. Not the only man on the ship in need of heroic redemption, Russell is joined by Josh Lucas, a super-slick gambler who tries to hit on a single mother (Jacinda Barrett), and Richard Dreyfuss, a suicidal gay passenger who pulls himself back from the brink. When a rogue wave knocks the ship upside-down, these survivors must work their way up to the bottom of the boat as the floodwaters rise.
Once the wave hits and the climb begins, there isn't much to Poseidon other than a mad dash to the surface, buttressed by reams of undigested exposition. Perpetually seconds away from a watery grave, the characters have to shimmy up through air ducts, cross a shaky beam as loose electrical wires wave overhead, and swim impossible distances underwater from one pocket of space to another. Though these thrills are preferable to the dramatic pauses when, say, Russell's mayoral record is under discussion, the action beats seem a little rote, lacking in any variety or ingenuity. Still, any disaster movie featuring a character named Lucky Larry can't be all bad, and Black-Eyed Peas haters will be pleased to find Fergie shaking her humps in the vessel's equivalent of Ground Zero. Thank you, rogue wave.