Going Down To Sea In Ships

000630 Clooeny Wahlberg pefect storm AP

This week Critic John Leonard reviews The Perfect Storm, which features George Clooney, Diane Lane and Mark Wahlberg, and is based on the Sebastian Junger novel of the same name.
For the big wet opening of the Hollywood version of The Perfect Storm, the cable-TV Weather Channel geared up, in yellow rainslickers, with special programs all last week.

I like the Weather Channel. Sometimes, at night, I switch back and forth between weather and VH1, as if hurricanes were music videos. I also like The Perfect Storm, although it's more like Wagnerian opera. Nor did they change the end.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
Whether or not you've read the book, you already know that six Gloucester fishermen and their boat disappeared in horrid winds and high waves off the coast of New England on Halloween 1991, when separate storms from three directions smashed together to make a monster. Not even director Wolfgang Petersen, who has been underwater before in Das Boot, was able to find these missing men. Live with it, like Romeo and Juliet.

What's amazing is that, knowing what we know, we are still thrilled and still scared. We agree with Diane Lane that her boyfriend, Mark Wahlberg, shouldn't go out again - but, of course, he has to.

We want George Clooney, captain of the Andrea Gail, to run away to Maine with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, but he thinks his luck's about to change. We want to jump overboard ourselves to save John C. Reilly from premature drowning.

Like Mary Elizabeth, we know perfectly well the Flemish Cap is a bad idea. We could have told them the ice machine would conk out, meaning they must go back or the fish rot. We are as helpless as Diane, watching all this on a TV set in a Gloucester bar, as Mark tries to save the radio antenna, and George hangs on by his fingernails, and the Andrea Gail tries to turn tail. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is too busy trying to save the ditched crew of its own rescue helicopter.

And then all liquid hell breaks loose.

Before they rescue themselves, the Coast Guard does save the crew of a yacht on its well-born way to Bermuda. Just like the Titanic: Rich people get bailed out and working stiffs drown. But weathr makes a terrific villain, just doing what it does, never mind traumatic childhoods, or corporate downsizing, or the CIA, or road rage - just like Moby Dick, except that Ishmael doesn't make it. And now I'm afraid to take a bath.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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