Perfect Storm

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Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go to a Summer Flick

Jul 2, 2000 (Updated Jul 9, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Some nice special effects

Cons:Cliché riddled script, Weak script that seems to be made for TV, Totally predictable in all aspects

Forget about any major plot twists for The Perfect Storm. It's loosely based on the Sebastian Junger book of the same name, and on the positive side of Bill Wittliff's screenplay, he does retain some of the basic facts. The move still focuses on the Andrea Gail fishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the mother of all storms that occurred in October of 1991. He also retains the ending where all six men perish at sea.

Please excuse me if that ruins the suspense for you, but this news story is already well known. I only hope to write enough here so that I can help some people avoid spending more money than necessary on this screen debacle.

The plot is pure formula, and felt more like a made for TV movie than one made for the big screen -- at least before the big drawn out climatic raging sea storm scenes. The overall story line has been done so many times, that Wittliff may have written it while asleep. After you see this lame movie, you may wish that he had done his research aboard the Andrea Gail during the storm. The basic formula follows:

1. Introduce the ship's crew briefly, but not enough to make them rise above a stereotype.
2. Have a few threads that contain love interests, so that some of the men have reasons for hating to leave their women and have reasons for returning to land.
3. Manufacture a little internal conflict between a couple of the men that give you an opportunity for a male bonding at sea moment.
4. Create a few sub plots that will show how bad the coming storm is.
5. At sea you will require some severe testing and some happy moments before denouement. Note: (There is a parallel here to Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, except "ice" is used to replace the sharks.)
6. Keep the dialogue simple so that you don't complicate the plot and make the audience think.
7. Remember that the special effects are the most important thing, and the only thing that you want the audience to remember.
8. This is about a sinking ship. Remember the captain's duty here and do not violate the stereotype under any circumstances.
9. The ending cannot be a total bummer. (This is Hollywood) Be sure to add some sappy dialogue to give people hope at the end.

Wittliff has written a few screenplays over the years, teaming successfully with Susan Shilliday on Legends of the Fall. He's also written a couple other scripts for Willie Nelson films that should have been sent straight for the TV screen. His most notable screenplay actually was for the TV mini series Lonesome Dove. Judging by The Perfect Storm, Wittliff should stay with TV drama unless he can collaborate with a good movie screenwriter.

The dialogue was so cliché riddled that it made me want to toss my cookies overboard. Christina (Diane Lane) doesn't want boyfriend Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) to go back to sea after coming in with a record low catch, so she tells him "It's always about money!" Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) actually says, "The fog's just lifting…" when he realizes that platonic friend Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) has romantic interests. Of course Tyne has to do "what I was made to do," and one of worst cliché ridden moments comes at a crucial time below deck when he challenges his men: "So this is the moment of Truth. Where they separate the men from the boys!" I'm embarrassed to say that this actually was a serious moment in the film; it took all my powers to avoid groaning aloud in the sardine packed matinee audience.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, Bobby tosses one last series at us: "Hell of a boat; hell of a crew; and a hell of a skipper!" I must give Wittliff credit for recognizing parallel structure, but his predictable script made the movie seem longer than its 129 minutes. Since I already knew what was going to happen, I began rooting for the forces of nature to stop prolonging the agony and to hurry up with the devastation of the little boat. (Actually, there's another non verbal groaner that happens with the captain as the ship begins to sink, but you know this cliché well)

The movie feels like one long roller coaster ride that isn't a lot of fun. Of course we expect the long exposition, but the story is so mundane that most of the actors could mail in their performances. While they "talk" about their love of the sea, they don't show it. The only actor who seems to add any life to his role is John C. Reilly as Murphy, who does show some intensity and complexity with his relationship with his ex wife and son. He's also the chosen one to have the required conflict with another crewmember. Perhaps he was honored to be directed by Wolfgang Peterson of Das Boot fame (at least Peterson has one great water film to his credit) .

I expect The Perfect Storm to die a quiet death among the masses unless Warner Brothers can figure out how to resurrect this disaster into a theme park ride. There were a few good special effects, including a couple that jump straight for the audience to make us duck, but these few minutes of eye candy do not make up for the hours of tedium. This movie will play much better on television, where you expect canned dialogue and don't expect quality programming, so you may tolerate this lightweight "epic" better on the small tube. The end credits dedicate the film to the 10,000 Gloucester men who have lost their lives at sea. Hopefully, some merciful person will come up with a better memorial.

I'm not even going to attempt to make a pun about the "imperfections" of Peterson's latest film. After a weekend of seeing lackluster blockbusters, I am so tempted to go back to the theater and watch the movie about clay chickens to restore my faith in summer moviemaking.



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