‘Waterworld” is a jim-dandy fun movie that looks about as expensive as it ought to.
Its briskly assured storytelling and convincing hero-and-villain portrayals betray none of the anxieties and hostilities that are supposed to have dogged its production as the most expensive movie of all time.
Owing as much to the generations-gone-by comic book adventures of “The Sub-Mariner” and “Aquaman” as to Hollywood’s swashbuckler tradition, “Waterworld” proves to be an honorably thrilling genre piece.
Whether it cost $175 million, $200 million or whatever, to make - depending on which “leaked” figure one believes - is not the moviegoers’ problem. That spectacular investment is MCA Corp./Universal Pictures’ money, which it can spend any extravagant way it chooses, and the price of admission is not affected.
Doubtless most early customers will line up to see why all the fuss; those who like this type of movie probably won’t find anything to complain about.
Kevin Costner, who not only stars but also takes responsibility for the final edit, plays a surly loner called the Mariner. In saner times, he would have spent his life sailing the seven seas, but, in this future era, global warming has melted the polar caps and formed one sea that covers the planet.
Plain dirt is a cherished commodity in a world where the only horizon is an unending wetness. Purified water is almost as scarce: This situation requires Costner’s Mariner, in an early scene that serves notice of the film’s earthy coarseness, to recycle bodily wastes just for the sake of taking a drink.
The great flood has forced people to construct makeshift floating cities, “atolls” that are threatened by rampaging pirate bands called the Smokers.
The Mariner lands in trouble right off the bat when he says he wants nothing Atoll to do with marrying an islander woman. The distrustful Atollers are about to do away with Costner when suddenly they find themselves under attack by Dennis Hopper’s pirates. Hopper plays the Deacon, a ruthless predator who leads an army of motorized surfers and water skiers. Costner escapes with the help of a mysterious little girl named Enola (Tina Majorino) and her guardian, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn.
The child bears a tattoo that might be a clue to the whereabouts of dry land. Costner and his followers, opportunists in their own right, seek to remove the girl from her protector’s care. The battle of wills between Costner and Tripplehorn accounts for considerable emotional tension in a film that could get by on action set-pieces alone.
Kevin Reynolds, whose tenure here seems to have been marked by disagreements with Costner, remains the director of record, and his distinctive style comes across throughout. He stages stirring battle sequences, and he avoids mayhem for mayhem’s sake. Reynolds’ plain storytelling sense remains one of the better qualities of the 1991 “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (another collaboration with Costner), and it works even better here.
Costner is in his element by underplaying with real charisma as a good and resourceful sort who can’t be bothered with being a nice guy. Hopper answers Costner’s understatement with a gleefully over-the-top show of villainy, painting the chief pirate as a proud descendant of the kind of ruthless people whose land-grabber schemes got the planet into this mess to begin with.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “WATERWORLD” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Credits: Directed by Kevin Reynolds, starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino Running time: 120 minutes Rating: PG-13
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