It seems like every decade or so, we’re subjected to a new battery of “Terror from Underwater!” movies. In the late 70s and early 80s, it was the God awful Jaws sequels. Then, in the late 80s, right on the heels of James Cameron’s thrilling The Abyss, it was the sucktastically brilliant duo of Deepstar Six and Leviathan, two equally ludicrous movies about strange beasties eating scientists underwater. The late 90s gave us a triumvirate of sub-aquatic spectaculars, three films of roughly the same quality that are now weekend cable staples. I figured that since I’ve run through the first two, Deep Blue Sea and Lake Placid, I might as well finish off this trifecta. Incidentally, anyone who argues for the inclusion of 1998’s Virus can go screw. That movie doesn’t count since a) that movie’s about robots/cyborgs, and b) it sucks on a level previously undiscovered by man. In any event, we all know the game by now — Hangover Theater exists to cure the common post-drinking agony. Movies that aren’t necessarily “good,” per se. Movies that for some reason warm our hearts a little, make us grin at their goofiness and entertain us in our moments of suffering. With that, friends, I give you the final entry in the unofficial late 90’s “Terror from Underwater!” series, Deep Rising.
You know you spend too much time watching some serious bullshit when a movie about a giant crocodile living in Maine is the most realistic movie on the list. Of the three films in question, Deep Rising may well be the most ridiculous. Equal parts Poseidon Adventure and Aliens
rip-off homage, it takes a kitchen sink approach to the horror/action/sci-fi genres, using so many different ideas and borrowing from so many sources that it threatens to drown you in its awesomeness. Heh. Drown you. Get it? Huh? Oh, fuck off people. I’m rusty, OK? Anyway. 1998’s Deep Rising is directed by, of all people, Stephen Sommers. For those with more discerning taste than me, Sommers is the man responsible for winners like all of The Mummy movies and its resulting tie-ins, as well as Gunmen, a Christopher Lambert/Mario Van Peebles movie so breathtakingly wretched that it threatens to draw you into a black hole whenever you watch it. Sommers wouldn’t know a subtle approach to filmmaking if it walked up to him and introduced itself, and that’s no different here. What is different is that despite being derivative, wildly chaotic and just downright silly, is that it’s also pretty damn entertaining, thanks in no small part to some clever ideas, energetic pacing and a remarkably charismatic cast that rolls through the movie with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks.
Treat Williams stars as John Finnegan, captain of a high-tech boat that is hired by a group of oafish, gun-toting mercenaries to transport them to a cruise ship that they plan on hijacking, robbing, and then blowing up. The reluctant Finnegan is joined by his sort of trusty, acerbic, slightly-cowardly comic relief sidekick Joey Pantucci (the always enjoyable Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor), as well as a bunch of other crew members whose names don’t matter because they all die horribly. The mercenaries, a menacing, scowling band of brigands, are led by Hanover (Wes Studi — Magua from Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans), and his gang similarly features a group of soon-to-be-dead meatsacks made up of random no-names and never-weres, with the exception of Djimon Hounsou, who really needs to have a word with his agent. The mercs are some sort of bizarre study in diversity, coming from everywhere from Northern Africa to New Zealand to the UK, and all have ridiculous names like Vivo, T-Ray and Mamooli.
Meanwhile, the cruise ship has its own cast of bizarre characters, including the captain, Atherton (Derrick O’Connor), Simon Canton (Anthony Heald, a man who has made portaying the smarmy prick its own art form) is the deliriously sinister financier and owner of the ship (which bears an utterly goofy name — The Argonautica — yet another “toss everything in there” example that pervades the film). Finally, there is also a clever thief/moll named Trillian, played with equal parts sultriness and sardonic humor by Famke Janssen. Again, there are other characters, but trust me, all you’ll remember is their gory death. Quickly after Canton’s ridiculous speech where he lauds the opulence of the ship and the disgusting affluence of its denizens, all hell breaks loose.
So Finnegan and Hanover and their respective crews arrive at the ship, only to find that almost everyone is missing and the ship looking like a tornado went through it. They eventually meet up with Canton, Atherton and Trillian, and now the fun begins. Obviously, there is something very wrong on the ship, and that something takes the form of giant worm-like nasties with mouths that look like the Predator mated with a lamprey. They are legion, whipping around throughout the ship, devouring people whole, biting them into pieces and generally causing any number of awesome, spray-of-blood deaths that will either make you jump out of your seat or cackle with glee. Possibly both, if your tastes are at all akin to mine. The rest of the movie is blissfully simple, as the cast tries to escape the ship, kill the big bad, and constantly fight with each other. Perhaps therein lies the key to what makes this more successful (well… maybe “more fun” is a better term there) than Sommers’ other movies. So many of his other cinematic disasters got weighed down by his over-complicating them, not to mention his penchant for badly imitated accents and overblown production (*cough*Van Helsing!*cough*). In a way, Deep Rising works in its own dippy way because it lacked the super-blockbuster budgets that his subsequent movies had. The effects are decent, but aided by their relative simplicity. Giant worms are not terribly complex in terms of visual effects, and while there are some extended shots of the mouths of the creatures (and one less-impressive shot for the big reveal at the film’s climax), the CG effects are enjoyable without being distracting.
Similarly, the sets are kept manageable and uncomplicated as well. By focusing on tight, narrow shots in the bowels of the ship, we’re allowed to focus on the action, not the background. Other than the main dining hall, the set is basically a retread of the Alien movies — dark, dank, and claustrophobic as hell, with the element of water thrown in for extra danger. The action is, as is probably expected, ridiculous. The mercenaries all have guns that look like they were designed by the mind of a hyperactive 12 year-old. In fact, the mercs all basically act like hyperactive 12 year-olds, grinning like idiots when they fire them, getting into chest-bumping, teeth-baring arguments over their toughness. All of that said, the scenes of the cast battling the creatures and each other are one of the films strongest points. Focusing less on anything resembling realism, and instead just making sure that what you see looks like gooey, gory, fearsome fun, the brisk pace and bubble-thin plot keep things breezy and snappy. Basically, Deep Rising alternates between witty banter, gruesome deaths, and balls-out fighting.
The other thing that saves it is the cast. They’ve clearly accepted their B-movie fates (make no mistake, that’s what this is: a $40 million B-movie), and each chews up the scenery in their own way. O’Connell’s Joey is the dorky weakling who can barely defend himself, Janssen can play the sexy tough gal in her sleep, and Treat Williams shows that, when he’s not in bland, whitebread, dull-as-hell garbage like “Everwood,” he can be entertaining as hell. His wry, derisive delivery is spot-on, and his chemistry with Janssen is believable — at least, as believable as chemistry between two perfect strangers trapped on a ship full of enormous carnivorous worm monsters can be. When Janssen, desperate for an ally and a way off the ship, coquettishly offers “anything you want” in exchange for his help to escape, his glib reply is, “Can you get me a cold beer?”
I suppose Deep Rising is no more or less absurd than a movie about giant, self-aware, genius sharks, or one about a monstrous crocodile that invades a town in Maine. I don’t know that there is a way to make any of these movies without being hilariously preposterous, and that’s probably why we derive so much joy from them, especially when we’re hurtin’ from our poor decisions. Despite throwing all manner of ideas from all manner of sources — pirates! cruise ships! big guns! giant monsters! deserted islands! — Deep Rising succeeds because of its uncomplicated, zany storytelling and an easygoing, well-realized cast. For all intents and purposes, Deep Rising is a movie that should have faded into obscurity almost immediately (a fate that the rest of Sommers’ films surely deserve). But thanks to some well-executed basic elements, it’s found its home as a comfortable regular in the weekend afternoon rotation.
TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him raising the dead in preparation for world domination at Uncooked Meat.
Deep Rising / TK
Hangover Theater | October 23, 2008 | Comments ()