Wolfgang Petersen's new version of ocean liner disaster yarn The Poseidon Adventure - first adapted, of course, as a 1972 blockbuster with Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters starring - works well enough as a full-speed-ahead thrill ride, even if it sometimes drifts off into kitschy self-parody.
But it isn't nearly as effective or well rounded as the director's earlier nautical or aerial thrillers (Das Boot, Air Force One and The Perfect Storm) and with no A-list stars in the cast recouping the reported $150m-plus budget in the fiercely competitive summer marketplace will not be an easy task.
Worldwide distributor Warner Bros will need all marketing hands on deck to prolong this would-be tentpole's theatrical life and set up what may need to be a particularly strong video performance.
Poseidon had its premiere last weekend at New York's Tribeca Film Festival and is set to open wide in North America on May 12, just one week after the similarly-targeted Mission: Impossible III. Getting a strong start at the domestic box office will be especially important because the film will soon face additional competition from two other summer contenders with more contemporary pop culture pedigrees: The Da Vinci Code and X-Men 3.
The international rollout begins this weekend in Australia and parts of Asia and continues through June and July, giving the film more room to manoeuvre but putting it in competition for male audiences with the football World Cup. The mid-level cast will be a drawback outside the US, but the emphasis on action should translate well in many territories.
Like the original movie, the new film opens on board a luxurious liner as the passengers prepare to celebrate New Year's Eve. With almost no warning, a huge rogue wave turns the ship over, putting its decks underwater and creating mayhem in the crowded ballroom.
The screenplay, by Mark Protosevich (The Cell), seems at first to be setting up a good deal of story material. Among the passengers introduced are professional gambler Dylan Johns (Lucas, last seen in Glory Road), former fireman and ex-mayor of New York Robert Ramsay (Russell), his daughter (The Phantom Of The Opera's Rossum) and her boyfriend (Vogel), a suicidal gay man (Dreyfuss), a Latina stowaway (Maestro, from The Motorcycle Diaries), a mother (Australian Barrett, from Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and her young son (Bennett), and an obnoxious drunk (Dillon).
Yet as the group begins its search for a way out of the partially submerged ship, only a few of the story possibilities are pursued. And when they are, the movie's momentum is killed by cliched dialogue and over the top performances. Only Lucas, who makes a mildly interesting hero, and Russell, who has a couple of nice paternal moments, come through unscathed.
The film works better when it sticks to frantic action. With its torrent of fireballs and floods, overlapping dialogue and panic attacks, the new Poseidon sometimes feels like a fast forward version of the now rather sedate-seeming original. The most effective sequences are the ones set in the ship's cramped passages and tunnels, where Petersen can display his talent for staging taut, claustrophobic action.
The special effects are big and showy, but once the ship has been capsized they become repetitive and less impressive. More genuinely impressive is the production design by frequent Petersen collaborator William Sandell, who recreates the ship's interior right side up and upside down and even manages to give the vessel something of a personality.
Warner Bros Pictures
Irwin Allen Productions
Mark Protosevich, based on the novel by Paul Gallico