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by: Scott Renshaw

There may not be a critic alive who harbors as much affection for shlock monster movies as I do.  I delighted in the sneaky-smart entertainment of Ron Underwood's big-underground-worm yarn TREMORS; I even giggled at last year's critically-savaged big-underwater-snake yarn ANACONDA.  Something about these films causes me to lower my inhibitions and return to the Saturday afternoons of my youth, spent in the company of Ghidrah, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Blob.

DEEP RISING, a big-undersea-serpent yarn, doesn't quite pass the test.  Sure enough, all the modern monster movie ingredients are in place: a conspicuously multi-ethnic/multi-national collection of bait...excuse me, characters; an isolated location, here a derelict cruise ship in the South China Sea; some comic relief; a few CGI-enhanced gross-outs; and at least one big explosion.  There are too-cheesy-to-be-accidental elements, like a sleazy shipping magnate (Anthony Heald) who also appears to have a doctorate in marine biology, or a slinky international jewel thief (Famke Janssen) whose white cotton tank top hides a heart of gold.  As it happens, DEEP RISING is noteworthy primarily for the mechanical manner in which it spits out all those ingredients.  A terrorist crew, led by squinty-eyed mercenary Hanover (Wes Studi) and piloted by squinty-eyed boat captain Finnegan (Treat Williams), shows up to loot the cruise ship; the sea monsters show up to eat the mercenary crew; a few survivors make it to the closing credits.  And up go the lights.

It's hard to work up much enthusiasm for this sort of joyless film-making, especially when a monster moview should make you laugh every time it makes you scream.  Here, the laughs are provided almost entirely by Kevin J. O'Connor, generally amusing as the crew's fraidy-cat mechanic. Writer/director Stephen Sommers seems most concerned with creating a tone of action-horror menace -- something over-populated with gore-drenched skeletons, something where the gunfire and special effects are taken a bit too seriously.  DEEP RISING is missing that one unmistakable cue that we're expected to have a ridiculous good time, not hide our eyes.

Case it point, comparing DEEP RISING to its recent cousin ANACONDA. In DEEP RISING, one of the creature's victims is regurgitated back into view, partially digested and still alive.  He shrieks in horror at his freakish appearance and pain, in a moment a bit too disturbing to be laughable.  In ANACONDA, we also see a regurgitated victim, partially digested and still alive.  He looks at another character...and winks. Make no mistake, DEEP RISING has ANACONDA beat all to heck when it comes to technical proficiency and pacing.  It's also gloomy, uninspired and not nearly enough fun.  I don't ask much of my monster movies, but I do ask that they act like monster movies.  You don't have to show me a fantastically impressive, massive beast with tentacles a-flailing.  Just show me the massive beast burping, and I'll figure you get the point.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 sea-sick sea serpents:  4.


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