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Worriers of the DeepDeep Rising

You can run but you can’t Hydra! It’s no coincidence that the doomed luxury liner that features in this briny B-movie (with loftier production values) is called The Argonautica. That’s a knowing homage by writer-director Stephen Sommers to Jason and the Argonauts, one of the many showcases for Ray Harryhausen’s animated effects which featured, in that case, the multi-headed water-serpent of Greek mythology. While James Cameron was toiling away on Titanic, Sommers was also getting his feet wet with this rather less ambitious story of the maiden voyage of a $500m pleasure ship that gets over-run by mercenaries and sea monsters on the same day. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

The stony-faced leader of the modern-day pirates, Hanover (Wes Studi), hires Finnegan (Treat Williams) and his well-equipped speedboat to intercept The Argonautica in the South China Sea. The dour bunch intend to rob a few safes and sink the liner as part of an insurance scam arranged by its owner, Canton (Anthony Heald). The ship’s pretty empty when they arrive, however, because in the mean time a beautiful thief, Trillian (Famke Janssen), has made a try for the jewels in the strongroom and the aforementioned creatures from the deep have gorged on most of the passengers and crew.

What follows is best described as Tremors meets Titanic but about as entertaining, relatively speaking, as a kick in the tentacles. Williams (The Phantom) comes over as a kind of poor man’s Kurt Russell when his character turns into one of the good guys; Studi (Last of the Mohicans) is far too stony-faced given the material that surrounds him; Janssen (GoldenEye) lets her tight vest do all the acting, while Kevin J O’Connor (Lord of Illusions) at least provides comic relief as Pantucci, Finnegan’s sarcastic engineer.

During the voyage we’re treated to such memorable death scenes as a woman being sucked through a toilet and seeing one of the monsters’ semi-digested victims being expelled when its stomach is blown apart by the trigger-happy soldiers of fortune. But these moments are just occasional highlights diluted by a tepid tale that largely consists of the cardboard cast spouting movie clichés as they wander through dark and damp corridors avoiding being swallowed and stepping over the slimy skeletal remains of the unlucky ones.

It’s the colossal snakes in the farce that easily steal this salty show. But before Rob (The Howling, The Thing, RoboCop) Bottin’s impressive – if derivative – monsters are seen properly (and that’s a long wait given this simplistic movie’s bloated running time), a minor source of enjoyment comes from the straight-faced utterances of the supporting cast. Several British characters are among them, including Derrick O’Connor as the ship’s captain. His over-the-top exclamation, “The ship’s infested – the bloody things are everywhere!” is bettered only by a Brit mercenary screaming, “Eat this you wankers!” as he unloads several rounds of bullets in the direction of the creatures.

Even though the characters grieve when their compatriots are lost in the spiny sinew and bone-crushing jaws of Bottin’s serpentine beasts, there will be no similar audience reaction as they’re a pretty interchangeable and unremarkable group. With a plot that’s all at sea and cinematic terms of reference that venture little further than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Deep Rising demonstrates along with Godzilla that, in the main, monster movies have been sucked dry of good ideas.

Starburst rating: 5 out of 10
Review by Ian Calcutt
Deep Rising picture copyright Entertainment

"A tepid tale that largely consists of the cardboard cast spouting movie clichés"

Deep Rising: Producers, John Baldecchi, Laurence Mark. Executive producer Barry Bernardi. Director, Stephen Sommers. Screenplay, Sommers. Music, Jerry Goldsmith. Visual effects supervisor, Michael Shea. Creature design, Rob Bottin. Starring, Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Kevin J O’Connor, Wes Studi, Derrick O'Connor, Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell & Trevor Goddard. Cert R/15. 105 mins. Released America: January ’98. Britain: September 25
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