Retro Film Review: Down Periscope (1996)

in film •  last month  (edited)


History teaches us that the outcomes of sea battles, unlike those fought on land, are relatively easy to predict. The side with superiority in numbers and technology almost always carries the day, while the inferior side ends on the sea bottom. However, occasionally the opposite happens (most famous example being 1866 Austro- Hungarian victory over Italians in Battle of Vis/Lissa) so the basic premise behind Down Periscope, 1996 comedy directed by David S. Ward, wasn't beyond limits of plausibility.

The plot begins with US Navy Admiral Dean Winslow (played by Rip Torn) being concerned over Russians selling their diesel submarines to various rogue states over the world. Winslow fears that some of those submarines could be used for suicide attack on American naval bases. Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (played by Bruce Dern) thinks that such diesel submarines don't stand a chance against super-modern American nuclear hunter-killer submarines. The issue is going to be settled by simulation involving USS Stingray, antiquated diesel submarine. Command of the vessel is given Lt. Commander Thomas Dodge (played by Kelsey Grammer), Navy officer who had got his first command after decades of faithful service. His task is to stage mock assault on naval base and, apart from his superiors' hostility, he would have to deal with the crew made of misfits, bizarre characters and Lt. Emily Lake (played by Lauren Holly), first woman ever to become part of submarine crew.

Down Periscope* is technically a submarine film, but the plot owes less to the classic of that particular sub-genre and more to Police Academy and American sports films. Again we have group of misfit underdogs having to beat odds and over-confident opposition and solve personal issue in the process, single female having to survive in predominantly man's world and other cliches. Sometimes those cliches can work, but the humour in this film is rather lame and viewers would have some problems suspending their disbelief. The only undoubtedly good thing about Down Periscope is acting, with Kelsey Grammer passing as very credible leader. However, the end titles which feature "Village People" and the submarine crews singing "In the Navy" prove to be much more entertaining and memorable sight than the film itself.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on June 3rd 2003)


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It looks like a good movie. I've heard of it before.