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Tempest in a Theater

The beaches are littered with big budget "water" movies that sank and washed ashore. Witness Waterworld, The Abyss, Sphere, DeepStar Six, Leviathan, and Deep Blue Sea. Actors in said films spend months floating in a Hollywood tank and getting soaked silly, only to bring in disappointing critical and box office results.

The Perfect Storm will not be one of those movies.

Mind you, title aside, it isn't perfect. But the movie—based on the true story of six New England fisherman who sail far out to sea and encounter the most powerful storm in recorded history—will have moviegoers running scared from ocean waves. And their bathtubs.

Seamless special effects put viewers smack dab in the middle of raging seas with 100-foot waves on all sides. And there's enough character development to make us care about the crew's fate.

Just as Backdraft paid its due to firemen and All the President's Men saluted newspaper reporters, The Perfect Storm will go down as the fishermen's movie.

Before the crew of the Andrea Gail set out on its ill-fated trip, we see a bit of the ebb and flow of life in their Gloucester, Mass., fishing village and the effect that weeks at sea has on marriage and family. And we learn how insecure the fisherman's life really is. Searching for sea bass, apparently, involves art and luck as well as science.

And speaking of luck (bad) and science, the combination of the two is exactly what hits the Andrea Gail while it's out hundreds of miles east in the North Atlantic.

At the end of October 1991, the remnants of a hurricane moving north over the ocean combined with another storm system from the west and a Canadian front from the north—colliding into an unnamed gargantuan meteorological event that has since been called "the perfect storm."

The film, too, suffers from a bit of turbulence. It tries to pay its respects to a tragedy, while throwing in thrilling action sequences that would put any real human being in a body cast—one good reason to believe some action sequences had to have been made up. (Telling you the other reason might ruin the movie for you.)

Thus, when the standard Hollywood action movie front collides with the reverential movie front, you get a partially inclement motion picture.

Also partially cloudy is George Clooney as the boat's Captain Billy Tyne. As always, Clooney pretty much plays himself. He does a darn fine job of it. But he's still playing himself.

The movie's sunshine comes from Mark Wahlberg who continues to defy expectations and prove his chops as a credible actor who can break your heart. His Boogie Nights cast mate, John C. Reilly, also shines here, continuing to show his versatility. Also appearing are Diane Lane and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as well as a few unknown actors—John Hawkes, Janet Wright, and Rusty Schwimmer—who make a striking impact.

Thcaptain of this ship, incidentally, is director Wolfgang Petersen, who's been to the sea before with his submarine opus Das Boot and to the adventure thriller genre before with Air Force One

As water movies go, The Perfect Storm may lacks the grand scale of The Titanic and the big disaster film kitsch of The Poseidon Adventure. But it's an intense ride that'll put a skip in your heartbeat and a lump in your throat.

See it on a screen big enough to hold those waves.

Written by Rob Medich

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