Deep Rising (1998)

D: Stephen Sommers
S: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor

The 'B' Movie is alive and well. Of course there's no 'A' feature anymore to go with the likes of Deep Rising and legitimise the viewing experience, but it is good fun without being good film like so many low-rent classics of the past. Cheesy dialogue, cliched situations, paper-thin plotting, half-dimensional characters, predictable shenanigans all round; but terrific entertainment if you're able to forgive all of the above.

Treat Williams is an amoral pilot hired by nasty Wes Studi (Geronimo) to transport a team of hijackers to a luxury liner (which one character refers to at one point with all due irony as "the love boat") which unbeknownst to them has already been stopped in its tracks by a shoal of computer-generated deep sea nasties with a taste for human flesh. Famke Janssen (GoldenEye) is a professional thief stranded on board who eventually teams with with Williams & Co. in an effort to stay alive.

Yep, you've heard it all before. Yep, you've seen it all before in one form or another. But hey, you sign on for this trip and you know what you expect. Here's a game you can play: award yourself some extra popcorn every time a character says a) "What are these things?" b) "Now What?" or c) "Oh Shit!" and munch happily over the rest of the dialogue.

It lacks measured development, careful exposition and interesting interplay between characters. It is not a study of human beings under pressure, or a meditation of the potential future of the human race, or much of a portrait of the dark, subconscious fears which trouble our species. It is possibly overlong and never really grips even on the level of basic storytelling. It is not good cinema or even good sci-fi or horror, but no one would claim it to be anyway.

This does not prevent it from being fun. It never takes itself seriously enough to become ponderous, but it works well enough on a generic level to satisfying undemanding punters. It is loaded with self-conscious but still funny one-liners (mostly delivered by Kevin J. O'Connor playing the genre's usual techno-nerd with a notable lack of actual techno dialogue), and plays the fact that the audience is well familiar with the cliches to move it along. Williams carries himself well as a sort of waterlogged, tongue-in-cheek Han Solo, with Famke clearly enjoying herself and not seeming at all as wooden as her role has the potential to make her. Everything moves fast enough for you to ignore the weaknesses and there are one or two nice little bits which produce extra wide smiles, though there's a small voice at the back of your mind wishing that the script would be just a tad less moronic.

Deep Rising has an interesting cast list, which apart from Williams, Janssen and Studi includes Anthony Heald (Silence of the Lambs) and Djimon Hounsou (Amistad), and boasts computer-generated beasties designed by Rob Bottin (and a team of ILM assistants). Its most original credit is for the design of "Half Digested Billy", which gives a heavy hint of what the purpose of the movie really is. This is effects and technology driven drivel written by director Stephen Sommers (The Jungle Book) to provide maximum opportunity for drawn out suspense and explosive action, both of which are filled with the threat and eventual presence of snarling, gore-soaked monsters. It's the oldest gig in the book and Sommers plays it with relish.

In many ways this is a terrific companion piece to the equally trashy but fun Congo, one of the big embarrassments of the last few years which still raises a chuckle as late-night no-thought-required programming. It could run in a double bill with Aliens or The Abyss the way Congo could go with Jurassic Park, a silly warm up for the big show which makes it a real night at the movies. If the thought of this kind of thing fills you with dread, may I recommend Three Colours: Blue for your edification. But those in need of harmless, relaxing stupidity could do much worse, though there is better even in the same second-string league (Tremors leaps to mind).

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.