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With: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Bob Gunton, Karen Allen, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Allen Payne, John Hawkes, Christopher McDonald, Dash Mihok, Josh Hopkins, Michael Ironside, Cherry Jones
Written by: William D. Wittliff, based on the book by Sebastian Junger
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and scenes of peril
Running Time: 130
Date: 06/26/2000

The Perfect Storm (2000)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All Wet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Perfect Storm is far from perfect. In fact, it doesn't even approach acceptable.

Based on a true story, but obviously fudged quite a bit, The Perfect Storm tells of the unlucky few sailors who were out at sea when the 1991 mega-storm hit just off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. George Clooney stars as the captain of a swordfishing vessel who dares to go out and try to break his unlucky fishing streak. His crew consists of: Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Allen Payne, and John Hawkes. At the same time Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is captain of another fishing vessel, and Karen Allen and Cherry Jones are out for a pleasure cruise.

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, and Air Force One), The Perfect Storm does manage to keep up its suspense during the storm sequences. His camera really captures the noise and the rain, and the feel of gigantic waves reaching impossible heights and crashing down again. Most of this is done with CGI effects, and because they're covered up in darkness and water, they look pretty good. Petersen is also adept at the lost art of making the action clear to us, and timing his scenes and his cutting to stretch out the suspense.

Where Petersen fails is in his control of the rest of the movie. How the screenplay (by Bill Wittliff) and the musical score (by James Horner) ever got past the planning stage is beyond me. A better director would have chucked both out the window and started again. The screenplay starts out badly, but it isn't until we get out to sea that the dialogue really starts stinking. We get lines like "Home? I thought the sea was your home." and "You're heading straight into the monster!" that made me wince. During the loudest action scenes, the dialogue is reduced to simple, "Lets Gos!" and "Come ons!", or it's drowned out altogether. Those are the good parts.

Moreover, Horner's score never stops once. It's continually twittering, thumping, blasting, and murmuring. This over-use of music was a trend that got on my nerves during the 80's and early 90's, and I've been pleased to see it on the decline lately, but The Perfect Storm has brought it back. It doesn't allow us any down-time or breathing room. It assumes that we're brainless clods and that we need to be told how to feel about everything at every moment. Do we really need music when we've got the crashing of the ocean? Not only that, but Horner even gets his cues wrong. When one man goes overboard, the crew is still fishing him out of the water when the triumphant "I'm saved!" music comes in a whole minute before the man gets back on deck.

Clooney has proved himself through two outstanding movies, Out of Sight (1998) and Three Kings (1999), to be an heir to stars like Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. He has ruggedness, charm, good looks, and skill. Why he would be so wasted in this nothing role is a question for the ages. Not only does he have nothing to do, but the screenplay hints at his character's possible insanity, which is never followed up or resolved. So he has nothing to do but laugh and stare wild-eyed and yell at his men.

And while I'm always glad to see Diane Lane, she has the thankless "waiting-and-worrying-on-land" character. She gives it her heart and soul, but the movie just really doesn't care about her.

I kept thinking that this material really belonged in the hands of the late director Howard Hawks, director of such male-camaraderie adventure classics as Only Angels Have Wings (1939), To Have and Have Not (1944), and Hatari! (1962). Hawks would have strengthened the characterizations, taken out the bad dialogue, cut the stupid subplots, and toned down the music. Then we would have had something amazing. As it is, we can't even tell who is who at times. During the storm, it's dark and everyone is wearing colored raincoats.

The ending, which I won't even bother describing because you won't believe me, is just about unforgivable. Except for Petersen's good suspense scenes, nothing in The Perfect Storm is salvageable. I worry sometimes that audiences will still go see a movie in droves no matter how bad it is (like Gladiator) but even the preview audience for this movie was looking embarrassed and sheepish as they shuffled out. The Perfect Storm is a stinker fit for the chum bucket.

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