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“There’s nothing fair about who lives and who dies.” It’s the only explanation Robert Ramsey can offer his band of struggling survivors. Whatever consolation the group may take from those words, they’re not worth much for the audience watching the ragged bunch trying to escape from a capsized ocean luxury liner. Regardless of who makes it off the ship alive, it’s unfair to have to watch the struggle for survival reduced to such a shallow, high budget stunt show.

The story opens with a taste of the best thing the film has offer: visual effects. You’re treated to a stem to stern sunset flyover of the massive Poseidon in all its glory. Take a hard look; it’s the last time you’ll see the ship looking so good. The passengers and crew are preparing to usher in the New Year with some serious festivities, unaware that a rare marine event known as a rogue wave is about to crash their party.

In a torrent of carnage and collateral damage, the 200 foot wall of water effortlessly tosses the giant cruise ship upside down resulting in the most violent and gut-wrenching cinematic sequence since James Cameron sank the Titanic. It’s a horrifying and stunning start that sets the stage for a potentially incredible story of danger and survival. I sat back and awaited an adventure of heightened emotional conflict and stirring struggles of will. An hour and a half later the credits started scrolling but I was still waiting.

Rather than capitalize on its talented cast, most of Poseidon is reduced to screaming, panicking, and frantic swimming. Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss…these are the names of people you hire to play at least semi-challenging dramatic roles. For what little acting actually took place, the studio could have saved itself several millions in salaries by hiring the cast of Anacondas instead. Shamelessly borrowing plot devices from movies all across the Hollywood spectrum, the filmmakers neglected to consult the one film that could have really helped: the original 1972 Poseidon Adventure.

Based on the same novel, the older movie may not have offered state of the art digital effects and massive rotating sound stages to dazzle and hypnotize the audience. On the other hand, its Academy Award winning cast wasn’t wasted either. The movie offered dark psychological themes and intense character interactions that created more tension than all the flooding hallways in the world. Once again, Hollywood has reinvented a film by stripping away everything that made the story truly absorbing by pumping it full of high budget frenzies and predictable life or death scenarios.

I expected something better from Wolfgang Petersen, who just two movies ago directed The Perfect Storm, a moving story about another doomed seafaring vessel. What we’ve ended up with in Poseidon is Petersen falling prey to George Lucas syndrome: spending too much time on stunts and special effects and too little time on characters and their interactions. I suppose it’s only fair to point out that he may have been slightly limited by his script. Screenplay writer Mark Protosevich’s only previous credit is The Cell. Draw your own conclusions.

Even though it’s lacking in almost every other department, Poseidon hits a homerun with big action and big visual effects. Poseidon is an incredible vessel, as beautiful to look at upright as it is terrifying to watch upside down. There’s something awe inspiring about watching a five-story-high ball room rotate upside down as the actors go from sitting in their chairs to clinging to the underside of the table before plummeting to the ceiling below. If you’re in the mood to switch off your mind and indulge in a Hollywood disaster flick of Titanic proportions, look no further. Expect anything more and you’re in for a monumental disappointment.