There's not much to expect from "USS Poseidon: Phantom Below," a low budget submarine actioner whose biggest star is Adrian Paul, the terminally sleepy-looking actor best known from the "Highlander" TV series. And, well, the film follows through on its low-expectations promise.
Originally made for television and aired under the title "Tides of War," "USS Poseidon" wants to be a Naval thriller along the lines of "The Hunt For Red October" and "Crimson Tide," with a little bit of "Navy NCIS" thrown in the middle. Paul stars as Commander Frank Habley, whose boat was attacked by an undetectable stealth sub, apparently from North Korea. Two of his men died in the attack, including his best pal. The problem is, the undetectable stealth sub is so undetectably stealthy that the US Navy insists the Habley wasn't attacked, but instead he simply screwed up on the job.
Conveniently, the person assigned to investigate the matter is the dead best friend's sister (Catherine Dent). And also conveniently, Habley is assigned to ship out yet again to Korean waters, with some of his old crew and some new crewmen loyal to a new Executive Officer (Mathew St. Patrick), who, also conveniently, has motives of his own, believing Habley to be a rogue officer not to be trusted. They might as well put a clock in the corner of the screen, counting down to the scene where the XO will dramatically demand that Habley step down.
For all its corniness - we actually get scenes here where the cast is required to lean left! lean right!, "Star Trek" style, to suggest heavy battle damage - "USS Poseidon" isn't as bad as it looks. Paul might be too bland to hold as the center of the story, and many of the bit players are embarrassingly blank in their line readings, but the main supporting cast, most notably Dent, St. Patrick, and Matt Battaglia (playing Habley's trusted Chief of the Boat), help carry things through. The screenplay (from Stephen P. Jarchow and Mark Sanderson, for those keeping score) oddly shifts the focus of the film to these characters, leaving Habley to become less important than he probably should be, considering - and yet this move works in the movie's favor.
It's not enough to rescue the film from its problems, however. The drama, while interesting in spurts, is mostly brainless; the characters seem to go out of their way to push the plot along, logic taking a back seat (and, at times, getting shoved into the trunk). The bulk of the seafaring suspense is far too one-dimensional to ever truly work, with the enemy submarine and a few ships on the surface become faceless things to be blowed up real good. Thrills fall too flat too often, with nothing in this film beyond "oh, this boat is chasing us, let's shoot at it." The stealth sub could easily have been replaced with a sea monster and nothing would've changed. We don't even get a full payoff for the "North Korean threat" set-up; that sea monster might have been from Finland, and again, no real plot change here.
Cap it all off with some shoddy CGI effects and some ham-fisted direction, and "USS Poseidon" fails to become anything more than a capable time-passer. It never comes close to duplicating the success of the movies it so desperately wants to be, and while a few decent moments here and there help make the whole thing bearable, it's impossible to like something that is, at its best, only bearable.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is as solid as you'd expect from any recent feature. The cleanness of the video does, however, manage to remind the viewer of just how clunky the visual effects are.
As with the video, the sound (in 5.1 Dolby Digital) is sharp, the music and sound effects making nice use of the surround feature. Optional subtitles are available in English and French.
Nothing but a batch of trailers for the usual line-up of Sony releases.
Regular renters of such low grade B pictures will find this better than the usual batch of cheapies. But that doesn't really say much. "USS Poseidon" is a third-rate Tom Clancy wannabe, better than it could have been, but not good enough to make it stand out.