Dir: Wolfgang Petersen. US. 2000. 129 mins.

Prod cos: Baltimore Spring Creek Pictures, Radiant Productions. Worldwide dist: Warner Bros. Exec prods: Barry Levinson, Duncan Henderson. Prods: Paula Weinstein, Wolfgang Petersen, Gail Katz. Scr: Bill Wittliff, based on the book by Sebastian Junger. DoP: John Seale. Prod des: William Sandell. Ed: Richard Francis-Bruce. Mus: James Horner. Main cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C Reilly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William Fichtner, Karen Allen, Allen Payne, Bob Gunton.

German director Wolfgang Petersen proves that he's a master of suspense with The Perfect Storm. The final hour-or-so in which his storm rages, and hapless humans try and ride it, is a bone-crunching, knuckle-whitening ride unlike anything yet seen on screen. Audiences will gaze in wonder at the sights on offer and bite their nails to the cuticle at the assault of tension that Petersen delivers.

There's no question that Warner Bros has a monster worldwide hit on its hands with this adaptation of Sebastian Junger's novel based on the true story of how a sword-fishing boat got caught up in the fiercest storm in modern history on the night of Oct 31, 1991, off the coast of New England.

Would that Petersen had devoted so much attention to his characters as he does to his action and he might have created a modern classic. Instead the sloppy, soapy set-ups involving the women left behind in Gloucester, Massachusetts, feel straight out of a TV movie. Indeed, even the male protagonists raging against the storm are mere sketches of machismo and courage - heroes of myth rather than real people trying to earn a living and survive.

Chief among the stereotypes is Captain Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, a driven, stubborn fishing veteran who pushes his crew beyond all limits in his quest for a big catch. On his last trip of the season - alongside crewmates including Wahlberg, Reilly and Fichtner - his boat, the Andrea Gail, runs into the storm of the title. The film shows how the crew tried to survive while also plotting the rescue efforts of the coast guard.

An immense spectacle, then, but not one that will be in line for any awards recognition other than a thoroughly deserved technical Oscar or two for effects master Stefan Fangmeier and his team.