Screenplay : Stephen Sommers
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Treat Williams (John Finnegan), Famke Janssen (Trillian), Anthony Heald (Simon Canton), Kevin J. O'Connor (Joey Pantucci), Wes Studi (Hanover), Derrick O'Connor (The Captain), Jason Flemyng (Mulligan), Djimon Hounsou (Vivo)
"Deep Rising" is a hybrid movie, a cross between "Aliens" and "The Posiedon Adventure." There's nothing particularly original about it -- in fact, it's really an assembly of parts from other movies, ranging from "It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955) to "Predator" (1987). It's goofy science fiction junk food that can be swallowed in one easy gulp; it's not all that smooth going down, but its certainly eatable. You want to fight it at all times just because it feels so hackneyed and unoriginal, but after awhile its pulp mentality becomes a bit catching, if you let it.
The movie stars the struggling Treat Williams as John Finnegan, a mercenary boat captain of some kind. For a price, he and his crew will take anyone anywhere. Finnegan's policy is, "If you got the cash, we don't ask." When the film opens, he is in the midst of carting an ethnically mixed group of tough guys with big guns, big muscles, no razors, and several torpedoes out into the middle of the South China Sea. The motley band is led by Hanover (Wes Studi), and also includes a character played by Djimon Hounsou, who had already garnered fame and acclaim a month ago in "Amistad," and probably doesn't like to talk about this movie anymore.
It turns out that Finnegan is taking them to meet up with the Argonautica, an enormous new luxury liner on its maiden voyage. The bad guys on board are actually terrorists with the intention of taking over the ship. But, when they get there, they find the cruiser in a state of disarray, and all the passengers are mysteriously gone. Apparently, something got there before they did and made off with everybody. The only question is, what?
There are still a few survivors holed up on board, including the wormy owner of the ship, Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), and a sexy international thief named Trillian (Famke Janssen). The survivors quickly inform the party of terrorists that there are "things" all over the ship, and those "things" wiped out the all the passengers and crew when it decided to emerge from the darkest depths of the ocean and crash the party.
From here, the movie falls into a mostly predictable pattern of cat and mouse on the slowly sinking ship, with the survivors being picked off one at a time by a giant, slimy sea creature. The creature, designed by Rob Bottin ("Seven," "Mimic"), is mostly a mass of giant, writhing, spiked tentacles capped with pointy mouths filled with endless rows of teeth. They're also extremely powerful, which means they have no problem bending steel or breaking through doors. One of the characters later informs us that this particular creature ingests its prey alive, drinks out all their insides, and defecates the skeletal remains. Appetizing thought, especially when the movie lets us see where all the defecation has been taking place.
"Deep Rising" was written and directed by Stephen Sommers, whose only other directorial features are two children's films, "The Adventures of Huck Finn" (1993) and "Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" (1994). "Deep Rising," however, is nowhere close to a children's film. Sommers goes for as many gross-out effects as he can (or at least as many as the MPAA would let him get away with), including one character getting a hatchet in the head, and another one melting in digestive juices right before our eyes.
However, unlike grimly serious horror films like last year's "Event Horizon," Sommers goes through most of the proceedings with his tongue in his cheek. He fully realizes just how unoriginal the material is, and he knows that it's silly and stupid. But that doesn't stop him from pulling the same tricks we've seen a million times, only this time with a little more humor. The screenplay is drenched with one-liners, some of which work better than others.
The cast of "Deep Rising" doesn't have much to do except run, scream, and die. Treat Williams needs this movie as a career jump-start, but I don't see it happening. He's an accomplished actor, but there's just something too plain and unimaginative about him. It's not that he's a bad actor -- he's just generic. In the token female role, Janssen holds her own mostly by acting and looking like Sandra Bullock in "Speed." Kevin J. O'Connor, playing Finnegan's mechanical expert, is the main form of comic relief; he plays the part like Gilbert Gottfried with long hair. Of course, if Gottfried annoys you like he does so many others, stay clear.
Since "Deep Rising" isn't standing on originality or character development as its draw, the special effects are of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, they're hit and miss. Ever since "Jurassic Park" came out in 1993, directors have come to the strange assumption that all digital effects automatically look fantastic. They don't. The monster effects in "Deep Rising" are sometimes great, sometimes good, and sometimes they just look like cartoons. The damage isn't fatal, but it doesn't help either.
©1998 James Kendrick