I have a bad feeling about this.
A whole me-too film-making industry has grown around James Cameron. Cameron's breakthrough film, "The Terminator", has spawned a whole slew of copycats over the years, which are all centered around a nemesis being sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future to change history. His 1985 film "Aliens" has similarly inspired a number of 'bug hunt' movies, pitting machine-gun-toting soldiers against swarming hordes of voracious xenomorphs. And in 1989, the 'Year of the Underwater Movie', "The Abyss" went up against "Leviathan" and "Deep Star Six". Now, in 1998, with James Cameron's "Titanic" racing towards an estimated $1 billion worldwide box office take, there were bound to be some wannabes riding on its wake. "Deep Rising" not only apes "Titanic", but this overly-ambitious production also manages to throw in "Aliens" and "The Abyss" for good measure.
So how do you construct the prototypical James Cameron sinking ship/underwater/xenomorph movie? First of all, you need the civilian with a good heart-- John Finnegan (Treat Williams from "The Devil's Own"), a Han Solo of the high seas who 'doesn't care as long as the money's there'. He's ferrying the stern-faced Hanover (Wes Studi from "Heat") and his squad of heavily-armed men-- the cocky and expendable military men that place too much faith in their technology. Along for the ride is John's engineer Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O'Connor), who fills in for the obligatory coward that utters the most wisecracks. Rounding out the cast is the character that will support the protagonist (and possibly become a love interest), who will come in handy during heated debates between the civilians and the military-types about who's in charge of the operation. This role is filled by Trillian (Bond badgirl Famke Janssen), a cunning jewel thief that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, there's the greedy corporate-type, who puts profits above anyone else's life, and undermines the efforts of the other characters to survive-- wealthy cruise ship magante Nigel Canton(Anthony Heald). Next, throw all these characters into an enclosed space that is not easily escaped and cut off from the outside world. This time, instead of a space station or a deserted colony, it is the Argonautica, 'the greatest, most luxurious, most expensive pleasure ship ever built' (well, at least they didn't say it was unsinkable). Next, reduce the number of characters with unseen creatures that mercilessly pick them off one-by-one. Increase the tension by providing darkness or a few inches of water to allow the creatures to hide in. Finally, add a global danger, such as an impending explosion or the gradual loss of oxygen, to the fracas, so that the characters can't dally about the whole movie hiding in a closet and waiting for rescue.
Now there's something you don't see everyday.
When Finnegan and Hanover, who's out to loot the ship, dock with the Argonautica in the South China Sea, they find the ship dead in the water, its passengers and crew mysteriously absent, leaving only telltale bloodstains to hint at their fate. They run into Trillian, who was arrested up by the ship's Captain after attempting to steal some jewelry, and Nigel, who saved himself by hiding in the vault. Pretty soon, whatever devoured the passengers and crew starts going after them, and they must work together to find their way off the ship before a) they become pureed, b) the ship sinks, or c) the audience loses interest.
Do you want to be an appetizer or an entree?
Writer/director Stephen Sommers, who previously helmed "Tom and Huck" and "The Jungle Book", works with a bigger budget on this outing, and it shows in the surprisingly high production values of this pic. The CGI effects are impressive in this movie, from simulated water effects to the tentacled creature wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, it looks as though there was little money left over for the other things, such as a better script or better actors. Despite the "Full Scream Ahead" marketing campaign that Walt Disney is using, DR has none of the clever self-reflexive wit nor the chilling suspense of "Scream". If you've seen the 'elevator music gag' in the trailer, you've pretty well seen the only memorable scene in the whole movie (I can't get that song out of my head). And other than a gruesome regurgitation sequence (which is more horrifying than the one in "Anaconda" with the half-digested victim screaming in terror upon seeing his own eviscerated body), this movie is just an extended chase adorned with badly-written dialogue delivered by uninteresting characters. Other than the vacillating tolerability of O'Connor and the spunky charm of Janssen, this movie is characterized by purely functional acting, including the hero of the story, Treat Williams, who looks bored. Even the presence of accomplished actor Djimon Hounsou (who may get an Oscar nod for his powerful performance in "Amistad") can't save this one.
This is the type of movie that is a chore to watch, requiring a focused effort on the part of the viewer to maintain an interest in. Built on a shaky premise (could 8 commandos really take control of an entire cruise ship, with more than 1000 people on board?), populated with second-banana actors, uttering inconsequential dialogue, and lacking any good hooks, "Deep Rising" is certain to sink out of sight very quickly.