See It Instead: Hunter Killer.
This week’s submarine action flick looks to be sub-par. Let’s look at three finer vessels.
At one point, it looked like Gerrard Butler was set to conquer the action genre as a rugged leading man. Then Gods of Egypt happened. And Geostorm. And any number of “why wasn’t this straight to Red Box?” craptastic flicks. His latest, co-starring Gary Oldman’s slow career decline, is about a nuclear sub out to save the Russian president before WW3 breaks out. Hey, Hollywood, why are you wasting time on this crud when I have a perfectly good script for “Bad Dudes: The Movie” in my desk drawer?
Anyhow, we seal the hatches, flood the tubes, and select three movies about either submarines or Gerrard Butler that you should watch instead.
The Serious Pick: Crimson Tide (1995).
After the break up of the USSR, a rogue Russian nationalist takes command of a nuclear missile facility and threatens annihilation if anyone intervenes. A US sub under the command of a grizzled veteran (Gene Hackman) is tasked with surveiling the site, and with being prepared to launch a preemptive strike if things escalate. His second in command is a brilliant but untested officer (Denzel Washington) who prefers to do everything by protocol. The sub receives the order to fire, but the necessary confirmation code is garbled when a rogue Russian submarine attacks. Caught in limbo, the two men stage a battle of wills with the older captain arguing for completion of the strike and the younger man urging the crew to stand down.
A great cast leads a tense thriller that delivers on all fronts. You have the psychological game of chess between the two officers, physical action as the crew chooses sides and battles each other, and military fireworks as the two submarines clash. Hackman and Washington are in fine form, and the script always walks the knife’s edge of not picking a side. It would have been easy for director Tony Scott to turn this into a big kablooey war movie like his films Enemy of the State and Top Gun, but instead we get a refined, gripping drama.
The Lighthearted Pick: Inner Space (1987).
A hot-shot Navy officer (Dennis Quaid) signs up for a secret project to miniaturize military assets. He pilots a sub that can shrink down to microscopic size, but before he is injected into a test subject the lab is attacked by a rival organization. The syringe with the mini-sub is rushed out of the lab, and injected into a civilian for safe keeping before it can be stolen. Unfortunately, the civilian is a hypochondriac and spaz (Martin Short) who predictably freaks out when the submarine makes contact with him from the inside. Low on oxygen, the two have to work together to get the vehicle out, and keep it out of enemy hands.
Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) liked to make weird and macabre films…which is why its such a surprise that Inner Space is all clean fun. An obvious riff on Fantastic Voyage, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It instead relies on good comedic rapport between straight-man Quaid and a manic Martin Short to keep the comedy on track. A light screwball sci-fi flick in the vein of Short Circuit ensues, with a good mix of fun and action. One of Short’s better received offerings, it even managed to snag an Oscar.
The Unconventional Pick: Coriolanus (2011).
Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) a dogged defender of Rome, is lauded for victories but hated for his elitist mind-set. After successfully destroying the rival Volsci army, led by his mortal enemy Aufidius (Gerrard Butler), he returns home to run for office. Fearing he will become a despot, two rivals goad him into attacking the concept of popular rule in front of a crowd. Disgraced and forced to flee, Martius – now known as Coriolanus – must seek out common cause with Aufidius in exile.
This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s bloodier and less noble-minded plays succeeds for two reasons. First, Fiennes updates the play to modern times. While many “Shakespeare, but in modern times” adaptations don’t add much to the drama, turning the Roman republic power struggle into a modern military coup makes the events more immediate and compelling. You don’t have to know much about antiquity to be instantly invested in the happenings.
Second, Ralph Fiennes is a beast, breathing fire all over the proceedings as if he were Coriolanus in the flesh. His intensity elevates the proceedings and prompts fantastic performances from those around him such as Vanessa Redgrave as his power-hungry mother and Gerrard Butler as his noble but relentless antagonist. If you want to see a military drama with Mr. Butler that passes muster, check out Ralph Fiennes excellent adaptation of the blood-soaked Coriolanus.