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`Ship' pic in deep water.


A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment of a Dark Castle Entertainment production. Produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Gilbert Adler. Executive producers, Bruce Berman, Steve Richards. Co-producers, Richard Mirisch, Susan Levin.

Directed by Steve Beck. Screenplay, Mark Hanlon, John Pogue; story, Hanlon. Camera (Technicolor), Gale Tattersall; editor, Roger Barton; music, John Frizzell; production designer, Graham "Grace" Walker; art director, Richard Hobbs; set designers, Claudine Clark, Christian Huband, Kate Lovejoy, David Nimmo; set decorator, Bev Dunn; costume designer, Margot Wilson; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Paul Brincat; sound designers, Richard Adrian, Dane A. Davis; supervising sound editors, Adrian, Davis; visual effects supervisor, Dale Duguid; visual effects and animation, Photon VFX; digital effects supervisor, Gerard Benjamin Pierre; special effects supervisor, Brian Cox; special makeup effects, KNB EFX Group, Inc., JMB FX Studio; stunt coordinator, Danny Baldwin; associate producer, Stephen Jones; assistant director, Colin Fletcher; second unit camera, Danny Baldwin; casting, Tom McSweeney, Fiona McMaster. Reviewed at the Grove, L.A., Oct. 21, 2002. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 91 MIN.
Epps        Julianna Margulies
Dodge       Ron Eldard
Ferriman    Desmond Harrington
Greer       Isaiah Washington
Murphy      Gabriel Byrne
Santos      Alex Dimitriades
Munder      Karl Urban
Katie       Emily Browning
Francesca   Francesca Rettondini

The vast cinematic possibilities of pitting a group of people against the haunts of a cursed Italian luxury liner are completely scuttled in "Ghost Ship." Launched with a few surprising touches and a disturbingly bloody prelude, horror pic collapses under the weight of its own dull conception and weak direction, dialogue and character portraits. Plot scavenged from a host of genre predecessors emphatically suffers in comparison to the current, superior haunted ship adventure, "Below." Just as loose lips sink ships, so word of mouth will ensure a short theatrical voyage during the Halloween period, with slightly better forecasts due for homevid.

A literally bubbly start, accented by composer John Frizzell's lush arrangement of "Senza Fine" and title credits fashioned in lacy pink-colored script, will make viewers think they've stumbled into a Doris Day movie. But the champagne mood is viciously altered when, aboard Italo luxury liner Antonia Graza in 1962, a party of revelers is sliced in half by a razor-sharp cable that snaps across the ballroom deck. The slow, delayed reaction of the victims as they see half their bodies (and, sometimes, heads) fall away is certainly one of the bloodier moments in a Hollywood pic this year, and about the only moment of style shown by helmer Steve Beck ("Thirteen Ghosts").

Action abruptly shifts to the present and the waters off Alaska, where the Arctic Warrior salvage tug is captained by Murphy (Gabriel Byrne). Murphy is cool but very much in charge, though often having to rein in his feisty crew: Epps (Julianna Margulies), who's virtually co-chief; first mate Gregg (Isaiah Washington); engine repairman Santos (Alex Dimitriades); and happy-go-lucky techies Dodge (Ron Eldard) and Munder (Karl Urban).

Back at port, crew is shown an aerial photo by local pilot Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) of a large ship floating in the Bering Sea. Intrigued by the monetary prospects of salvaging such a big item, Murphy reduces Ferriman's demand for 20% of the take but--in the first of several less-than-believable plot points by scripters Mark Hanlon and John Pogue--agrees to take the pilot along on the venture against all better judgment.

It should be all speed ahead at this point, but a persistently clumsy handling of pacing and staging undercuts the dramatic potential of nearly every sequence.

Exploring the vessel allows the chance for production designer Graham "Grace" Walker to create some effectively dank and rust-laden interiors that suggest a rotted-out grandiosity, but it also sets up many chances for silly, self-evident lines ranging from "It's beautiful? to "I told you to watch your step?" Epps is the first to see a ghost--a little girl seen in the prelude.

After encounters with corpses in the water and boxes full of bars of gold, Epps is convinced they should retrieve the gold and leave the ship alone. But after an explosion kills Santos and sinks the Arctic Warrior, the survivors are stuck on board at the hour mark, where they each have close encounters with talking ghosts, triggering a series of grisly dispatches of one crew member after another.

All of this is haplessly linked to characters' supposed "marks" of sin and a dapper fellow who labors for the Devil as a salvager of souls. In a sequence that resists explanation but dazzles for a few minutes, the ghostly little girl "shows" Epps the massacre that happened on the liner, and triggers Epps' final stab at heroism.

Pic jumps over so many gaping story holes--how Epps manages not to freeze to death floating in the icy Bering Sea, among others--that any close examination renders the project an out-and-out comedy.

Margulies manages to survive both ghost ship and movie, carving out a physical perf obviously modeled on Sigourney Weaver's school of tough-gal adventuring. The men largely appear adrift in roles more pencilled out than written. As the little girl ghost, Emily Browning at least has the requisite deep eyes, and the gaze of an old soul.

Production package is adequate though hardly up to the typically high standards of a project produced by the likes of Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. Frizzell's music is scattershot, ranging from an orchestral sound to bloodless techno. Effects images of luxury liner's sinking are amazingly fake, considering that it's five years since the sinking of "Titanic."
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Author:Koehler, Robert
Date:Oct 28, 2002
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