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All hands lost

graphic

'Perfect Storm,' despite dazzling effects, founders, sinks

June 30, 2000
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m. EDT (1445 GMT)


In this story:

A fateful decision

A bonanza, then bedlam

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(CNN) -- Despite its $140 million price tag, "The Perfect Storm" is far from perfect. Director/producer Wolfgang Petersen did a lot better underwater in "Das Boot," the gripping 1981 film. "Storm" is not exactly a remake of "Twister"(1996) on the water, but it comes close.

"The Perfect Storm," whose title comes from a book of the same title by Sebastian Junger, is based on a true story. In the fall of 1991, the so-called "storm of the century" hit the coast of New England. The film attempts to recreate the mayhem that tempest wrought.

Caught in the melee are six fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, is the captain of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat. His crew includes rookie fisherman Bobby Shatford, portrayed by Clooney's co-star from last year's "The Three Kings," Mark Wahlberg. John C. Reilly plays the kindhearted Dale "Murph" Murphy.

The remaining crew, David "Sully" Sullivan, (William Fichtner), Michael "Bugsy" Moran, (John Hawkes) and Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne) -- are never fully realized as characters; they serve mainly as cinematic wallpaper.

A fateful decision

Our story begins on land, where Tyne and crew realize they have had a series of disappointing catches.

So Tyne decides to take the Andrea Gail out one last time before the the swordfishing season ends -- and just before the gale season begins. Viewers meet the tight-knit group of people in the lives of the six as they prepare to head out.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays Linda Greenlaw. She's the captain of another boat, the Hannah Boden, and she and her crew have had much better luck at sea. She also has a soft spot for Tyne.

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Diane Lane plays Christina Cotter, Shatford's girlfriend with whom he is trying to build a new life after a messy and expensive divorce. She's strongly opposed to his venturing out on a final voyage for the season; Shatford, needing cash, decides to go anyway.

The rest of the crew? Any attachments they may have are only briefly and barely outlined, thereby undercutting any emotional investment the audience could possibly muster for the group.

As the Andrea Gail sets out to sea, you can almost hear the theme song from "Gilligan's Island" -- "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip..."

A bonanza, then bedlam

At first the men have little luck, then Tyne decides to push on to the Flemish Cap, a remote area where swordfish are usually plentiful. They hit the jackpot, and soon their hold is full of fish. Unfortunately, the ship's ice machine breaks just as a menacing storm front develops. The captain is faced with a hard decision: Wait out the storm, and end up with rotten fish, or race for home and pray for the best?

Unaware of the storm's magnitude, and unwilling to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fish, the six buckle down and churn for home.

At this point the story intercuts -- awkwardly -- with another drama happening far to the south. A private yacht with a family of three (Bob Gunton, Karen Allen and Cherry Jones), are also caught in the storm's fury, prompting a breathtaking rescue attempt by the crews of a Coast Guard cutter and Air Force helicopter.

This subplot actually contains more drama and tension than the main story. The courageous feats of these military men are awesome as they repeatedly plunge into the raging sea to save the lives of the people on the ill-fated yacht.

Throughout the second half of the film, everybody is screaming their dialogue over the special-effects sounds of the thunderous storm -- and James Horner's pounding score -- as we go back and forth between the two dramas. There's also an occasional side trip to the mainland, where the people of Gloucester hang out at the local bar, the Crow's Nest, waiting for news.

It's all too much. With all the waves crashing, people screaming and boats rocking, the film's scenes begin to look alike and interchangeable.

To their credit, the filmmakers did not tack on a happy-faced "Hollywood" ending to this true story. A pity you cannot give them more kudos than that.

"The Perfect Storm" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13. Running time is 129 minutes.



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