Movies set inside crippled submarines are always ripe for drama. The very thought of being trapped inside a high-tech sardine can, hundreds of feet below the surface, gives me the willies. I would feel like Donald Pleasance’s character in “Fantastic Voyage,” so desperate to get out that I would lose all touch with the reality of the situation.

u-571Once a staple of post WWII war cinema, there have been so many submarine dramas that they have become a genre all their own. The memorable ones, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” “Das Boot,” “The Hunt For Red October” and “On The Beach,” help erase the wake of the bad ones, like “Gray Lady Down.

The latest entry in the genre, “U-571,” falls somewhere in-between. It’s competently made, with impressive special effects and the occasional flash of originality. Most of the time, “U-571” sinks like a rock, weighed down by trite dialogue and paper thin performances that get all soggy as the film progresses.

Based on a real event, “U-571” lacks the conviction and suspense to be anything more than a big- budget disappointment. It’s hard to believe that all of this hard work and effort went into a script that is nothing more than serviceable, at best. It’s a paint-by-numbers experience in which all of the colors bleed together to create a mess. This movie is so predictable I could have reviewed it without stepping inside the theater.

Director Jonathon Mostow, who proved he was capable of creating suspense in tight settings with “Breakdown,” fails to generate any here. Unlike Wolfgang Peterson, whose “Das Boot” made us feel like we were sitting on the bottom of the ocean with the submarine crew, Mostow never achieves that claustrophobic feel. Not once do you feel any genuine danger or fear.

Mostow has been slaving over “U-571” for years, desperate to bring the story of an American submarine crew who masquerades as a German U-Boat in order to steal a top secret decoding machine, to the screen. Purists will argue the validity of the events, while those just looking for grand entertainment will have to settle for much less.

Fabricated history aside, “U-571” suffers from a case of familiarity. There isn’t one moment in the film that you haven’t seen before. The writers, Sam Montgomery, David Ayer and Mostow, fail to make any of this their own. The characters are nothing more than sketches, while the dialogue is so leaden it’s a wonder it didn’t sink the submarine.

Matthew McConaughey looks great in his Navy whites and short cropped hair, but even he has trouble establishing a presence. He plays Tyler, a dedicated Lieutenant who has just been passed over for the opportunity to command his own sub. He’s bent out of shape, but we all know before the film is done Tyler will get his command, so we really don’t feel his disappointment.

Tyler and his men are summoned away from their well earned shore leave to participate in a top secret mission. The Navy has learned that a German U-Boat has been disabled, and immediately sends out an American submarine disguised as a U-Boat to intercept them. The mission focuses on a code device called Enigma, which is used to contact enemy fleets to destroy Allied Troops. The orders are to secure the sub and steal the Enigma, no matter what cost.

That means the writers must kill off all of the obvious choices, including the young man who just got married, but didn’t have time to consummate the union. These little cliches begin to add up until the script is so top heavy that it begins to sink from its own weight. You want to admire the filmmakers decision to use subtitles for the German sailors, allowing them to speak in their native language. Yet the film is so cartoonish that this little bit of added realism seems out of place.

So do most of the cast members, who never seem to find emotional ballast. The performances are nothing more than dramatic flotilla to wrap the impressive special effects around. Harvey Keitel is okay as the sub’s Chief, but is saddled with weak patriotic speeches that ring false. Bill Paxton is totally wasted as the Lt. Commander of the sub, while it is hard to distinguish among the young supporting cast.

This is especially true when the mission goes to hell. During the chaos a lot of characters are lost to the violence, but since we didn’t really know them in the first place, their loss is void of any emotion. They’re just bodies. Everything happens so fast, and is so chaotic, we don’t even realize until the film is over that half of the cast is gone. David Keith’s character, a Marine Major trained for such a mission, just disappears without a trace.

It’s hard to believe that a major studio would invest so much in a film that delivers so little. Prepping and executing all of this must have been a monumental task. Why wasn’t that much effort invested into the script? You never once feel like you’re in the middle of a war. When Tyler and his crew find themselves trying to escape the enemy by diving to unfathomable depths, you never feel that they are in any danger.

Instead of seeing heroic men performing heroic deeds, all we get are actors playing war. When pipes start bursting and chambers start flooding, all I kept thinking was how much of a hassle it must have been for the actors to dry off and do the scene over and over again.

Mostow’s film looks and sounds good, including the crisp cinematography of Oliver Wood and flag waving music of Richard Marvin. The visual and mechanical effects are impressive, showing much more dimension than anything else in the film.

I still believe that there are still a couple of good films left in the genre. “U-571” is a total embarrassment, and will only satisfy audiences who aren’t nearly as demanding. The rest of us deserve better.

SUB STANDARDWaterlogged cliches and performances sink WWII adventure


Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Bill Paxton, Jake Weber, Matthew Settle, Erik Palladino, Jack Noseworthy and T.C. Carson in a film directed by Jonathon Mostow. Rated PG-13. 116 Minutes.


Comments are closed.