“Full scream ahead”
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Starring Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Anthony Heald and Wes Studi
Boat pilot Finnegan (Williams) and his engineers Fantucci (O’Connor) and Leile (Una Damon) are hired by the sinister Hanover (Studi) to transport his team of goons to a mystery location in the middle of the ocean. They soon discover that their passengers are mercenary bandits, intent on robbing the colossal cruise liner Argonautica. Unfortunately, the liner has much worse problems.
With most of the passengers and crew of the Argonautica dead and their boat crippled by an errant speedboat, Finnegan forms an uneasy alliance with Hanover, the Argonautica‘s owner Canton (Heald) and thief Trillian St James (Janssen) to salvage parts from the liner and escape from the mysterious, deep sea not-an-octopus that has infested the ship.
What’s wrong with it?
The monster is a kind of nonsensical Cthuloid abomination, but presented as legitimate science, despite its infinitely extruding jaw-tentacles.
The film itself is a weird hybrid of Aliens and Star Wars, with many lines straight up lifted from both. It has very little originality to it, and is entirely reliant on shock and awe to power through the lack of plot (the nearest thing to a twist is that the self-serving billionaire turns out to be slightly more self-serving than previously revealed.)
What’s right with it?
Although the script is about ninety percent knock-off, the cast of slumming character actors and rising second-string superstars (oh my God, Djimon Hounsou looks so young!) lifts the material well above its deserts. No-one mugs or winks at the camera, and that basically saves the movie from becoming a shambles. Fucks were given, is what I’m saying, and that’s not nothing.
The action is pacy and the special effects – I may snark about billing a film as being ‘from the SFX team of…’, but we’re talking about ILM here – hold up surprisingly well.
How bad is it really?
This film is a bit of a historical oddity, made by Stephen Sommers right before he scored actual success with the Mummy, and featuring Famke Jannsen in her difficult post-Bond girl phase, Sommers favourite Kevin J O’Connor at about his least annoying, and perpetual poor-man’s Harrison Ford (Ford was actually considered for the role) Treat Williams in his post-The Phantom slump. And yet for all that it’s dumb as rocks, as original as a convoluted analogy knocked off from Blackadder and basically just not very good, it’s actually… pretty dam good. It’s slickly made, pacy and just good fun; if a little icky in places.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Equipped with shiny new assault rifles with rotating barrels, the mercs nonetheless start to get spooked as they move through the oddly silent Argonautica. In the casino they fire at a movement with the intense, sustained storm of bullets usually reserved for the Predator, before realising that there is nothing there. Two of them then look at each other, grin, and just start shooting again at nothing; just for the hell of it.
What’s up with…?
- The weird tentacle monster? What is it?
Production values – For what it is, the film looks great. For anything it looks pretty good, albeit a little goofy. 8
Dialogue and performances – The script is a cheesy mess of allusions too and direct quotes from Aliens, Star Wars and probably half a dozen other things I didn’t catch, but the cast play the fuck out of it. 9
Plot and execution – The plot is paper thin, but the pace and panache of the action keeps it rolling. 9
Randomness – What are the monsters? Really? 4
Waste of potential – This is so-bad-it’s-good at its best. 3