'Perfect Storm' stays afloat in soggy season

"The Perfect Storm" is a perfect formula movie. Looking for originality, creativity, and real surprises rather than superficial shocks? Then fish somewhere else.

But if you're in the mood for a tried-and-true entertainment that delivers all the obligatory goods - turbulent action, corny romance, and enough wave-churning seascapes to make "Titanic" seem landlocked - then this is the place to sink your anchor for 127 minutes of fact-based adventure.

Well, not quite 127 minutes. The movie begins with a great deal of slow-moving drama intended to make us care about the seafaring heroes as human beings. Or at least as stereotypes - the Aging Skipper who's losing his touch, the Eager Rookie determined to prove his worth, the Feuding Fishermen itching for a fight. And so on, not forgetting the Loyal Womenfolk who wait faithfully on shore and the Crusty Oldtimer who comments on events behind a grizzled beard.

My favorite is the Amazed Meteorologist who ponders a pile of charts, realizes that three devastating weather systems are converging off the coast, and utters the line we're hungering to hear: "This doesn't look good!"

The movie picks up when the heroes head to sea. It picks up more when the ice machine breaks down on the fishing boat, forcing the skipper to make an Awesome Decision many miles from land: Should he let his cargo rot, or should he steer into the Biggest Storm Ever and race for home? It's an easy call - perishing in the waves is clearly better than living with stinky swordfish - and from this point the picture bobbles from one water-drenched crisis to another.

"The Perfect Storm" packs a cinematic wallop during its best sequences, full of towering surf and improbable derring-do made vivid by split-second editing. The acting is adequate to the occasion, with George Clooney's skipper nicely balanced by Mark Wahlberg as the rookie and by John C. Reilly and William Fichtner as seamen with chips on their shoulders.

You may get tired of watching them flounder around, but for variety there's a Coast Guard rescue team that also flound- ers around. Wolfgang Petersen became a star director with "Das Boot" in 1981, and apparently the briny deep still lures him. "The Perfect Storm" will hardly enhance his reputation, but it stays afloat as well as anything Hollywood has launched so far in this rather soggy season.

*Rated PG-13; contains action-movie violence.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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