Poseidon is a remake of 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, which landed an Oscar nomination for Shelley Winters (who knew she could swim?) and helped launch a series of disaster movies in the 1970s. I have the dimmest memory of the original, and though I will soon be able to say the same of its current incarnation, I only saw it yesterday, so fetid bits of it remain clinging to my memory cells. Poseidon spends 15 entire minutes on character development before insisting that a rogue wave flip a beautiful cruise ship upside down (fie on you, Wolfgang Petersen) in order to get down to the real business of special effects.
In that first fleeting passage, we meet our cast. Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) is a gambler who earns his living taking money from idiots who go on cruises to give their money to people like Dylan Johns. Dylan seems to have some kind of history with Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), an ex-fireman who was also once the mayor of New York. We never learn what kind of history Dylan and Robert might have had, though we suspect their prior relationship might be revealed in the "extra scenes" when the DVD comes out. Robert has a beautiful daughter named Jennifer (Emmy Rossum, whom we last encountered knocking us dead as Christine in Phantom of the Opera), who has a boyfriend named Christian (Mike Vogel), who isn't dignified with the benefit of a last name. Robert doesn't like Christian because Christian likes Jennifer. Plenty of fathers can identify with that, I suppose.
Other characters include single mother Maggie James (Jacinda Barrett) and her son, Connor (Jimmy Bennett), who have no back story whatsoever. Connor has been provided so that he can get lost on cue and therefore imperil the other characters who are always having to save him. Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss) is gay. He's probably rich, though perhaps just irresponsible with his money. These qualities are in no way any more important than the fact that Maggie and Connor aren't blessed with any qualities whatsoever. It's also of no importance that Richard is gay. In fact, if the movie weren't so fiercely determined to make sure we know he's gay, we'd think he was getting sweet on Elena Gonzalez (Mia Maestro), whose back story consists solely of the fact that she's a stowaway.
Two other characters are established for fleeting utility. A guy named Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon) and brave Capt. Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher) are both introduced as cannon fodder. We spot that both are shortly going to come to no good when each gets to deliver a big speech. Lucky Larry hates Robert for reasons that may or may not be revealed in the DVD "extra scenes." And Capt. Bradford solemnly warns the main cast that if they leave the upside down ballroom he's going to have to shut the bulkhead doors behind them. I won't even bother with the puzzle of why the switch for the bulkhead doors must be located near the ceiling of the 40-foot-high ballroom, but I did fret, cruise-ship enthusiast that I am, that the Captain seemed to have memorized protocols for dealing with a ship when it's upside down.
The last hour and a half of Poseidon deals with the endeavors of the cast to climb up to the bottom of the ship and crawl out through the propeller holes. Along the way, Dylan and Robert argue about strategy before forming a mutual-admiration society. Christian overcomes the fact that a steel girder falls on his leg (don't ask how he got underneath the girder that presumably started out above him) to do some fine swimming and take his turn at rescuing Connor. Several people besides the cannon fodder die. See if you can guess. At every turn our heroes encounter a different nasty way to expire. We have burning, falling from great heights, being trapped in tiny spaces, and, of course, drowning.
I found little of this either convincing or fun. But I did find the survivors utterly obnoxious to be so happy at the end, evidently oblivious to the fact that thousands have died, including people they were supposed to love. I'll take my cruises right-side-up, thank you very much.