Blending horror and comedy has always been a tricky thing – too often the comedy can undercut the horror – but in 1998, writer/director Stephen Sommers released Deep Rising, which was not only a horror/comedy, but an action movie as well. Added to the mix was a monster that would be 95% CGI – at a time when computer generated characters/monsters was in its infancy – so this movie turning out as good as it did is a testament to all those involved.
Deep Rising is quite the genre mash-up, with equal doses of the action heist movie, buddy comedy flicks, and your classic B-monster movie, all centering on a cast of villains – that’s right, this movie has no straight up heroes just degrees of morally flexible crooks – who must work together if they are to survive (and not that many of them do). The basic plot of Deep Rising is that a group of mercenaries have hired PT boat captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams) to pilot them out to the middle of the South China Sea, where they are to pull off some mysterious job. Among Finnegan’s own small crew is his wise-cracking mechanic Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor), and Leila (Una Damon), who gets stuck doing much of the grunt work as well as having the unenviable position of being Joey’s girlfriend. Neither of these two crew-members are all that happy with Finnegan’s business motto of “If the cash is there, we do not care,” especially when Joey discovers the mercs have brought black market Russian torpedoes onboard.
The group of mercenaries are led by a badass named Hanover (Wes Studi), a take-no-crap kind of guy, and their target is the Argonautica, a luxury cruise ship owned by Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), but a wrinkle in the plan quickly develops when the cruise ship is attacked by a massive sea monster prior to our plucky band of mercs arriving on the scene. Armed to the teeth, the men storm the ship only to find it completely devoid of passengers or crew, only blood and carnage, and before anyone can even utter the words “Mary Celeste,” they all find themselves fighting for their lives against a tentacle monster, one that apparently likes to swallow and “drink” its victims alive. Our “heroes” eventually do come across a few survivors; Captain Atherton (Derrick O’Connor) and the aforementioned Simon Canton, who is shortly to be revealed as the inside man on this heist, and we also encounter sexy thief Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen), who got locked up in the ship’s larder prior to the attack.
The only reason this film works at all is because of the great chemistry among this bizarre collection of characters; Finnegan is your standard roguish hero – so much in the vein of Han Solo that they first offered the part to Harrison Ford – who has a very flexible moral compass when money is involved, and the banter between Treat Williams and Kevin J. O’Connor certainly elevated the material beyond what we are use to getting in films of this genre. Famke Jansen is great as the femme fatale, quickly realizing what kind of movie she was in and thus sticking close to Finnegan, and then we have the amazing Wes Studi, whose instant screen presence sells his character as an efficient, cold and calculating villain who doesn’t intend to let some slimy tentacled creature get in the way of his payday.
What is truly delightful about Deep Rising is the fact that Stephen Sommers gave us a hard “R” rated monster movie – if made today, I’m sure the studio would have forced a PG 13 rating like they did to Jason Statham’s Meg – and this film does not hold back at all on the gore, as bloody body parts and viscera practically spray throughout the film’s entire running time. The blend of practical make-up effects with CGI enhancements lead to some truly startling results, as well. Not only do we get to see people being engulfed by the monster, but we also are treated to some great moments with them after they have been partially digested.
Deep Rising is an immensely fun flick full of laughs and screams, but it does have a few problems, starting with the basic premise behind the heist itself. We learn from Canton that he hired the mercs to rob and then sink the ship for the insurance money, because after spending $487 million dollars building his dream ship, he came to the startling conclusion that this ship will never be able to operate at a profit, thus sinking it for the insurance is the only way to prevent the bankers from getting their grubby hands on it. Joey makes the comment, “You mean we’re all gonna die ’cause you screwed up on the math?” and then the movie rushes forward with more monster action, not giving us time to question, “Just how did he screw up the math?” Now, this is the maiden voyage, and a bemused Captain Atherton points out that the ship is running at full capacity, so how could it be in financial trouble already? Canton informs him that, “The problem is that the cost of keeping it operating is a hell of lot more than we’re ever gonna take in.” So apparently Simon Canton constructed a floating casino that from day one was doomed to lose money, but exactly how is that possible? I thought Donald Trump was the only person on Earth cable of opening a casino and losing money. Did Canton construct the ship’s hull out of platinum? Does he pay the entire crew one hundred thousand dollars a year? It’s a little throwaway plot element that just doesn’t quite pass the smell test.
Deep Rising also has a couple nice nods to some classic films; when the ship is first struck by the creature we are treated to some fantastic stunts, as passengers are sent flying ass over teakettle, and it all looks like it could have been lifted directly from Irwin Allen’s classic disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, but the similarities to that film don’t end there: there is a moment in Deep Rising where our heroes have to travel through a submerged corridor that is a homage/rip-off of the Shelly Winters swimming sequence from The Poseidon Adventure. Then we have the film’s exciting climax where Finnegan sticks the Russian torpedoes through holes in the hull of his PT boat, where he then sets it to auto-pilot to ram the monster-infested cruise ship with his makeshift weapon. This is a pretty clever plan, but almost the exact same plan that Humphrey Bogart and Catherine Hepburn came up with in The African Queen to use against a German gunboat.
A modern audience looking back at Deep Rising may find the early computer generated monster to be a little quaint, with some rendered shots looking a little cartoony at times, but the creature designs by legendary effect man Rob Bottin are really quite impressive. However, the sequence where the monster chases Finnegan and Joey, popping up floorboards as it travels below the deck, seems to be a complete lift from John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film which Bottin also worked on. But wherever the film lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in pure unadulterated fun. Deep Rising may not be the best sea monster movie ever made, but it’s got to be in the top five, and one heartily recommend.
• Canton had disabled the cruise ship’s communication systems so the crew wouldn’t be able to call for help when the mercenaries arrived, and because of this our heroes can’t call for help either, but wouldn’t Finnegan’s boat have had a radio on board?
• The triple-pulse assault rifles used by the mercenaries’ fire so many rounds that each of them would have had to be towing a wagon full of ammunition behind them for this to be even remotely possible.
• During the waverunner chase sequence, Finnegan opens and closes elevator doors by shooting the control panels. This is a trope that I really, really hate. Electronic locks do not work this way.
• The cast of mercenaries is quite impressive, along with Wes Studi we have the likes of Jason Flemyng, Clint Curtis, Trevor Goddard and Djimon Hounsou.
• Our survivors make it to a nearby island only to find it inhabited by a giant monster.
Deep Rising (1998)
That this film managed to make its way onto Roger Ebert’s “Most Hated List” is something I just don’t understand, it’s a rollicking fun adventure film that keeps it’s tongue firmly in cheek, the gore is well utilized and though some of the humor may fall a little flat at times the performances across the board are great.