Disaster films are all about the spectacle, of course, and if gauged on that score alone, Poseidon (2006) – a remake of terrible “classic” The Poseidon Adventure – might be considered a success. With the advanced special effects of the twenty-first century at its disposal, it certainly upgrades the original’s action-adventure scope. Its cast is also much easier on the eye and, more importantly, the ear. Unfortunately, it fails spectacularly at upgrading the film’s subtexts; like the original, it just ends up subconsciously reflecting the excesses and blind spots of its era.
As part of the general next-leveling of the scenario, Poseidon moves the cruise ship from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic. It’s New Year’s Eve, and most of the passengers are enjoying the evening in the ballroom – gambling, dining, dancing, and ringing in the new year. The festivities are promptly interrupted by a rogue wave, which capsizes the ship and flips it over, trapping the revelers underwater in an air pocket at the bottom of the ship. Captain Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher, wasted in a thankless role) is certain the survivors are in the safest place and that everyone should wait for rescue. His pleas don’t convince everyone, however, especially former Navy man Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), who schemes to single-handedly escape, planning to climb all the way up and escape through the hull. When former New York mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) overhears this, he convinces Dylan to bring him along so that he can find his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) on the way. A small group forms around them and begins a perilous journey through the inverted catastrophe.
In remaking messy source material, Poseidon makes a handful of smart decisions, at least. It squelches the toxic subtext of a faith-blinkered preacher leading followers to salvation; instead it focuses on Dylan’s journey from lone wolf to leader, gradually acknowledging his need for connection. It also lessens the strident bickering dynamic of the original, making its party easier to like – except, of course, for “Lucky Larry” (Kevin Dillon), who approaches the disaster with such obnoxious bravado he practically begs to get knocked off. It even tries for some backstory and personal subplots – such as the protective, old-fashioned Ramsey’s fretting over Jennifer’s relationship with boyfriend Chris (Mike Vogel), a stowaway subplot for Elena (Mia Maestro), and the emotional journey of a suicidal gay man (Richard Dreyfuss), whose survival instinct kicks in when the shit hits the fan.
But…yeah, no. Poseidon mostlysquanders the opportunity to examine the original’s clumsy messaging, failing entirely to look under the surface. The only improvement is the spectacle, bolstered by a higher budget and better cast (which also includes Jacinda Barrett, Jimmy Bennett, and Freddy Rodriguez). But’s is just as empty as the original, and perhaps even more insincere, an obvious Hollywood recycling project. It’s more interested in sociopathically murdering passengers – drowning, electrocuting, burning, and exploding them — than making us care about its heroes. And while it rearranges a few deck chairs to make these adventurers more palatable, it isn’t enough to make this more than a marginal improvement on the original.