The formula is simple. Trap a varied group of people on an isolated location, then pop in a seemingly unstoppable monster to kill them one by one. These have been the successful ingredients for many good films (The Thing, Alien, Aliens, and Tremors to name a few). So, why is it that so many films following this recipe end up pathetically bad? (See The Relic for a particularly putrid example.) Perhaps it is simply too easy to forget the necessary binding ingredient: effort and ideas. Deep Rising meets these two requirements part way, but not enough to salvage the film.
Treat Williams is Finnegan, the leader of a small boat crew who hire out their services (and their boat) for any activity…no questions asked. This time, however, they may have gone too far. Their passengers, led by the ominous Wes Studi, are the type of multi-national terrorist squads usually only seen in Die Hard films. And their cargo…let’s just say it has very high explosive potential.
What is the target of these thieves? Why, the Argonauticus, of course, a high tech luxury cruise yacht on its maiden voyage. But something else is hunting the Argonauticus…something ancient and deadly. By the time the thieves arrive, nearly everyone on board the ship has been killed. And now the creature senses fresh meat!
So, you have the thieves and their mercenary boat crew, joining forces with the surviving passengers (including the ship owner Canton (Anthony Heald), and a thief with less lofty goals, Trillian (Famke Janssen)) against the terror from the deep. And the monster gets to pick them off one by one.
Fortunately for the creature, this particular band of criminals happens to be the dumbest the world can offer. Why else would they indulge in petty squabbling while they watch their friends become fish food. If there’s a more clarion call for unity, I don’t know what it might be.
It’s pretty easy to guess who will get killed off when. There are no surprises in that the most interesting characters seem to last until the end. For the most part, the watery tentacles seem to be acting on the audience’s impulses to get rid of the most boring characters first. (Although I wonder if the filmmakers might have extended Djimon Hounsou’s life a bit if they knew this would be released so soon after his acclaim for Amistad.)
Treat Williams is a passable hero, and Famke Janssen does her best Julia Roberts impersonation. But while Wes Studi and Anthony Heald are particularly slimy, very little of the rest of the company stand out in any way.
The biggest treat in the film, however, has to be Pantucci, Kevin J. O’Connor’s whining engine-boy, under Finnegan’s employ. His constant quips may be a bit over-written, but they manage to capture the same vein of nerve-addled humor that Bill Paxton delivered as Hudson in Aliens (or Todd Graff as Hippie in The Abyss, for that matter). It’s just a stock part (the comic-relief character), but it almost makes this tired Alien clone bearable.
As far as the monster goes, although the CGI is done well, the creature has no logical consistency. Think back to the great (or even just good) movie monsters. They all had a set of “rules” about what they could do, and how and why they would do it. Part of the joy of those films was slowly discovering, along with the heroes, just what those rules are. The tentacle monster in Deep Rising doesn’t have a set of rules… or if it does, not a very good one. It merely eats (or drinks, as the case may be), and there is no rhyme or reason for what it does in order to do so. The film never explains why the Argonauticus is attacked in the first place. It simply happens.
The action scenes are decent, but few are noteworthy. The film definitely does suffer from its proximity to Titanic. Deep Rising’s peril in the water scenes pale next to Cameron’s (but can you really blame them). Unfortunately, Deep Rising’s efforts are more on par with Speed 2.
On the plus side, however, the film’s closing image shows some promise for a potentially interesting (but unlikely) sequel. Perhaps you’d be better off waiting for that one.