“Deep Rising” is an old-fashioned B movie with A-budget effects, but the quality sheen can’t disguise the cheap-thrills hokum. As such, the film is better than average at delivering the chills, and after a rocky start, setting the tongue-in-cheek tone for this yarn of sea creatures vs. bandits. Decidedly programmer fare, it will play off quickly to fair B.O., but will have to wade through every revenue stream to return its hefty pricetag.
Pic opens with adventurer-for-hire John Finnegan (Treat Williams) and crew buffeting the waves in the South China Sea (actually the northern Pacific) with a surly lot paying the charter fee. Only mechanic Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor) seems surprised when he discovers this group of pug-uglies has a cargo of nuclear warheads aboard. The film is a definite no-brainer for everyone save the onscreen characters.
Meanwhile, farther downstream, the world’s most opulent luxury liner, the Argonautica, is making its maiden voyage (uh-oh!). Amid the popping corks, pickpocket and jewel thief Trillian (Famke Janssen) is caught in the act and thrown in the cooler, while in another part of the ship, someone has infected the vessel’s communication system with a virus. Then, with nary an iceberg in sight, something hits the boat with mega force.
When the looters arrive a short time later, they find a virtual ghost ship swimming in blood. The sole survivors are Trillian and a group sealed in a vault that includes builder Simon Canton (Anthony Heald). The latter party rant hysterically about deep sea monsters, which not surprisingly, chief goon Hanover (Wes Studi) finds hard to swallow. He doesn’t have to wait long to become a believer.
Scripter-helmer Stephen Sommers draws from Roger Corman movies and Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” for inspiration. What he lacks in wit is meant to be compensated for with state-of-the-art effects and production design. In fact, the balance falls somewhat short of the guilty pleasures of bygone cheapie entertainment.
The film has one of those tried-and-true movie formulas that’s tough to sink. But due to over-familiarity, it’s also difficult to elevate to new heights. Sommers demonstrates competence but not a lot of flair. What the film badly needs is the winning Bruckheimer combination of razzle-dazzle and astute casting.
The players are mostly solid, if predictable. Djimon Hounsou (of “Amistad”) pops up briefly as a gang member and early victim. Studi and Heald offer apt presence to respective roles that call for menace and duplicity. Williams and Famke work valiantly to give stock roles some breadth, with the latter coming close to succeeding. But O’Connor’s whining, wisecracking part is an exercise in forced humor that’s often like fingernails to the chalkboard.
Ultimately, the late-arriving star is Rob Bottin’s octopus-like behemoth with multitiered fangs. It oozes, it crushes and sucks victims into its bowels with the facility one expects from great predators. It’s too bad a more novel demise wasn’t fashioned for such a spectacular creation.
“Deep Rising” is wafer-thin entertainment for those in need of quick, visceral shocks and obvious, scary delights.