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Friday, June 1, 2012

My 100 Worst Films of the 90's - 12 - Waterworld (1995)

Waterworld (1995; Universal Pictures)
Waterworld is one of the big ones.  The only thing that saved this one from being in the bottom 10 was the impressive set design.  In fact, at the time of its release, Waterworld was the most expensive film ever made.  The film had a bloated $175,000,000 (est.) budget.  Wow!  It didn’t do well (comparable to its budget) but it did alright. So, what was up with Waterworld?  Why is it so famously bad?

The movie opens with an explanation that the polar ice caps melted and the world is covered in water.  We meet our “hero” (played by Costner, he’s unnamed because Costner is pretentious like that) as he pilots a strange sort of evil pontoon boat.  He dives into the water and grabs some junk then goes to a floating city to trade it.  It is here where he gets into a scuffle that results in him getting a strange, over-elaborate death sentence until he is rescued by a woman named Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in trade for him taking her with him.  She has a little girl named Enola (Tina Majorino; The girl from Napoleon Dynamite) in tow, who has a strange tattoo on her back that may be the map to dry land.  The girl grabs the attention of some crazed pirates called Smokers led by Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and she is kidnapped.  Now the hero, Helen and a few more allies must fight off the smokers, save Enola and find dry land.

I really don’t know where to begin with this one.  This is one badly-acted film.  Costner’s character, credited as “the Mariner” (give me a break...) is flat-out unlikable.  His actions and reasoning is unconscionable and while Helen constantly brings things back to humanity, he consistently moves in the opposite direction.  There are multiple times where he tries to kill Enola by throwing her overboard (really for no apparent reason).  It’s hard to cheer on your hero when he acts like this one does.  Tripplehorn’s character is also really weird.  Her behavior is preachy and whiny (not so much a compliment to Costner as a contrast) and we get scene after scene where she tells him why he can’t kill Enola.  The whole time, we just don’t care.

The action in Waterworld is also pretty weak.  I’d like to know where the Smokers find all the fuel and oil for the aircraft carrier base and the dozens of motorized marine vehicles they drive.  I’d also like to know why buildings are burning down when they’re floating on the ocean.  Wouldn’t they have thought of that?  Wouldn’t there be some sort of way to harness the water that’s, well, everywhere for a fire system?  There seems to be a lot of effort that went into making this movie look “cool” but none of that effort went into logically defining this world.  It’s just a bunch of disjointed set-pieces that are trying to distract us from the fact that this movie suffers from very bad performances given by actors reading a bad screenplay built upon a weak plot.

The principle directorial credit for Waterworld is Kevin Reynolds. This was the director of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the laughable historical piece Rapa Nui. While I actually liked Prince of Thieves (guilty pleasure) the deficits in Rapa Nui repeat themselves in Waterworld. There's the poorly defined universe, the silly overacting, the bad cinematography and then there's Reynolds' standoffish direction that makes it impossible to connect with any of the characters on screen. The shots are either too tight or too wide and the constant motion (obviously intended to create a feeling of motion on the water) is just nauseating.

Ultimately, Waterworld is just an unpleasant, over-dark, and boring action flick. Summer action movies are supposed to be fun. Look at the Avengers! THAT was a fun movie. It was bombastic, it was entertaining and it was memorable. Waterworld's lack of heart and joylessness is mostly the result of Costner's dreadful performance here. I think Kevin Costner can act. I really do. Field of Dreams was great, and he was great in it. Here though, he just plays a despicable bastard and there's just no fun in watching a film where your hero attempts to kill a little girl without batting an eye.

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