Friday, March 28, 2014

Down Periscope - 1996

"Down Periscope" - 1996
Dir. by David S. Ward - 1 hr. 32 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

"Down Periscope" is the kind of movie that spends the first five minutes hammering home over and over again that the main character has a tattoo on his dick.  It's not mentioned in passing, but hit upon over and over again, and is a main motivation for how people treat the character.  And this is also the kind of movie that wants you to believe that Kelsey Grammer is the kind of guy who would get drunk enough to get a tattoo on his junk.  And then, that everyone would know about it, including his superiors in the Navy, and that it would affect how he was treated.  This film feels like it was written in the early '80s (I mean, tattoos in general were fairly mainstream by the mid-'90s), but couldn't get made until a ton of people who should have known better needed the work.

Tom Dodge (Grammer) is a man in search of a boat - he's been repeatedly passed over to command a submarine, and is considered a degenerate and generally irresponsible.  For some reason, Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern) hates Dodge, and decides to give him a promotion to helm a rustbucket diesel-powered sub and a rag-tag crew, to be used in a wargame scenario that will probably lead to Dodge losing, and the end of his career.  But, if you know anything about save-the-house comedies, you know what's going to happen.

"Down Periscope" isn't really a good movie.  It's funny at times, and the cast is littered with people who you will possibly recognize.  And as bad as it is, it's still pretty watchable.  There's not a ton at stake, and it has the sophistication of a mainstream sitcom, and is as formula as it could possibly be, but it's still pretty watchable.  Part of that is that Kelsey Grammer is an absurd choice for the role - he's too stuffy and Frasier-y, but why not?  There are fart jokes, general stupidity, and everyone learns a lesson by the end of the film (including me, because pretty much everything I know about submarines comes from watching "Down Periscope").

So let's get back to the cast, which is the main reason to watch, and an illuminating lesson in the importance of having a good idea before making a movie.  If you said that you had a film that had Kelsey Grammer, Bruce Dern, William H. Macy, Lauren Holly, Harry Dean Stanton, and Rip Torn in it, among others, it's not impossible that the result could be pretty decent.  In fact, Macy made both "Down Periscope" and "Fargo" in the same year, which is also a lesson to creative types that the line between genius and (admittedly watchable) dreck can be very thin indeed.  In this case, a matter of months.  In general, the cast here doesn't have much to latch onto, since most of them are playing broad caricatures, so no one really excels.  Since there is a bit of talent, everyone keeps things afloat, but there's just not much that can be done beyond that.

But then, this is also a movie that has Rob Schneider in a prominent role, and has the cast included in an updated video for the Village People's "In the Navy."  "Down Periscope" is what it is; a really dumb movie that means well, and has faces you'll recognize, and maybe you saw it when you were younger and don't mind sitting through it again on a WTF Thursday night, when everything's re-runs and you just need to kill an hour and a half because it's way too early to go to bed yet.  And there's that part where Harland Williams pretends to speak whale, and that scene where Lauren Holly's uniform is three sizes too small (although still fitting with the mid-'90s comedy need for women to be largely asexual), so grab a beer or two and melt into your couch.

1.5 / 5 - TV

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