One of the reasons I'm watching my weekly blockbusters on Sunday nights and posting about them on Sunday nights is because by the time I buy my ticket, I have some sense of just how well the week's big movie has gone over with the general public. Because the point of this project isn't to review movies that my A.V. Club colleagues have already ably reviewed, but to talk about the relevance and viability of the whole blockbuster experience in 2006.

And as far as this year's moviegoers are concerned, Poseidon's a no-go.

To an extent, Poseidon's middling-to-disastrous first weekend box office performance is a little baffling. The movie is taut, suspenseful, and makes up for its utter preposterousness with a handful of action set-pieces as excruciatingly nail-biting as any we're likely to see this summer. (I'd forgotten how claustrophobic I am until I fidgeted my way through the "stuck in the air vent" scene.)

Maybe the stumbling block is that we're still just too stung by 9/11 to want to see people in a panicked race for survival; but Poseidon does kind of feed our vanity in that regard. It's about a wave that hits a bunch of people who feel they did nothing to deserve it, and then about a string of useless victories that temporarily make them feel better.

Still, compared to the original The Poseidon Adventure, the new Poseidon isn't zeitgeist-y enough. The original embodies the spiritual yearning of the fading hippie era in the person of Gene Hackman, a renegade preacher who seems to have reinterpreted Christianity to mean "follow your bliss" … though he either has a change of heart or fulfills his egotistical worldview by sacrificing himself, falling weakly into a pool of fire.

The new Poseidon delivers a little "fuck you" to Hackman by having its hero Josh Lucas dive headfirst into a pool of fire and emerge unscathed on the other side. Otherwise, the nods to its ancestor are few. A stubborn captain, an Oscar-bait musical performance, a few unexpected deaths, and that's about it. All the lead characters are different, and lack the purposeful philosophical balance of The Poseidon Adventure. They also aren't played by the slate of Hollywood vets who made the first one both kitschy and competently run. As David Poland points out, the movie might've roped in more viewers if the casting directors had embraced camp, and filled the movie with TV stars and old hands. Casting Kurt Russell is never a bad idea, but ideally, Poseidon could've used more of Richard Dreyfuss, whose overcooked performance is more in the spirit of the piece.

Or maybe the cast isn't the problem. Maybe it's just the same recent summer blockbuster malaise, which has audiences feeling there's no reason to pay money to see what they've already seen, unless it's going to be reimagined in such a way that it casts a new light on how we're living now. Poseidon pretty much ducks social relevance, even in the abstract. Heck, it doesn't even try to say anything about the modern ocean cruise industry. Ultimately, all it has is a big wave. And lately, we've seen enough big waves.


This week's trailers-in-brief: Click has a promising premise, but the trailer is a mess, emphasizing the dopiest jokes and only bringing up the "heart" of the piece–that Adam Sandler comes to regret fast-forwarding through life–in passing. The Break-Up has a great cast, but the trailer makes it seem shrill and unfocused. The Gridiron Gang trailer raises the question of whether Phil Joanou has been the most disappointing promising director of the past 20 years. Superman Returns is playing well with this Superman-lover, but maybe that's because the color scheme and framing reminds me of an Alex Ross comic. And if I had to place a bet on the summer's sleeper hit, based on trailer alone, I'd go with The Lake House, not just because its sappy story will bring out the sniffling singletons, but because, damn it, that house looks neat.


Next week: The Da Vinci Code! Seen in a theater on the buckle of the Bible Belt, no less.