Hey, that giant tidal wave was so 1970s. Why not a new “The Poseidon Adventure,” where the ship is upended by terrorists that infiltrate the kitchen staff? OK, so one man’s current-events-oriented rethinking to include a weird disaster-movie-meets-“Navy SEALs” mesh is another’s unnecessary exploitation. Bottom line is that once the boat finally flips, there are plenty of big stunts and action here — this remake’s one saving grace, since all the character-driven revisions only water down the product.
In another bit of updating, at the core of this “Adventure” is a dysfunctional nuclear family, the Clarkes. Dad (Steve Guttenberg) and mom (Alexa Hamilton) have brought their kids (Amber Sainsbury, Rory Copus) on a cruise, but not only is their marriage on the rocks, dad starts a brazen affair with the ship’s masseuse (Nathalie Boltt).
Interrupting this installment of “Maury,” for better or worse, is homeland security officer Mike Rogo (Adam Baldwin, who shares a name with Ernest Borgnine’s original role but little else). Rogo is on the cruise because of a terror threat to strike at sea, and damned if an explosion a little over an hour in doesn’t temporarily halt the family strife, as survivors scramble to reach the ship’s bottom, which is really the top.
“They pay me to be paranoid. And I’m good at my job,” Rogo says before things go topsy-turvy, which actually suggests that he isn’t so good at his job, doesn’t it?
Although director John Putch and writer Bryce Zabel have to lay a certain foundation before the action kicks in, movie is a real slog before its tipping point and only barely watchable thereafter. At least recognizable elements from the first film appear, as a clergyman (Rutger Hauer, upgraded to bishop) leads a hardy band that includes the elderly Mrs. Rosen (Sylvia Sims, a less showy version of the role that earned Shelley Winters an Oscar nomination) mount their ascent.
Pic is so busy that there’s little time to develop the characters other than the Clarkes. That’s in part because the second half keeps intercutting with U.S. naval operations to dispatch a rescue team. Contributing to that effort, somewhat inexplicably, is Alex Kingston as a British intelligence agent. Maybe NBC still owed her a few bucks from “ER.”
While such a project is hardly an actors’ showcase, it would help if viewers cared even remotely about the passengers before they start dying off. Unfortunately, the drama is flimsy at best, including Guttenberg’s cringe-worthy attempts to bond with his kids when he should be, say, trying to avoid plunging into flames — a fiery death suffered by some that proves rife with symbolic reckoning.
That final sequence drags on until the “morning after” promised in the original voyage surely must have arrived. Then again, the strategy here is as transparent as the hole in the Poseidon: Hope the name alone sparks curiosity. It probably will, though probably not enough to bail out the November sweeps for a network taking on water as fast as NBC.