Research scientists race to save a sinking nuclear submarine in SUB DOWN, an entertaining if routine thriller.
The USS Portland sets sail from Washington with three civilian scientists aboard: Harry Rheinhardt (Tom Conti) and his assistant Rick Postley (Stephen Baldwin), who will be testing an ice profiler mounted in "Marvyn," a minisub they have developed; and Laura Dyson (Gabrielle Anwar), who will be
tracking whale migrations. They are welcomed cordially by Commander John Kirsch (Chris Mulkey), a career military man struggling to maintain his standards against political notions of the role of a peacetime army.
When the Portland is under the polar ice cap, Harry and Rick take Marvyn out for a test, accompanied by a curious Laura. The minisub's sonar confuses a Russian submarine, causing a collision with the Portland. Damaged, the Portland settles on the ocean floor at 2500 feet, well below the depth at
which it is safe from being crushed by water pressure. The three scientists return to the sub and make it to the control room. Harry takes Marvyn to look for a break in the ice, but he is killed when Marvyn develops a leak. Rick and Laura receive a Morse code message from the surviving crew,
trapped in another part of the sub. Rick restores electrical power to the ship and Kirsch sacrifices his life to repair the damaged reactor so that the ship will have enough power to escape. With air almost gone, Laura hears whales on sonar and has Rick follow them to a break in the ice.
In between the plot points mentioned above, the characters in SUB DOWN spend most of their time listening to the ships' hull creak, struggling against the confined spaces in which they are trapped, and looking worried and sweaty about the lack of oxygen. In other words, SUB DOWN is pretty much
everything you could ask for in a submarine movie. As such, it's hard to know why director Greg Champion had his name taken off the film and replaced with the fictitious Alan Smithee. Barring any of the innumerable disputes that can trouble a film, one can only assume that he had something better
in mind that what is seen here. The only real weakness is the script, which doesn't seem to know what to do with the characters on their way to getting trapped under the polar ice cap: the sexual flirtation between Laura and Rick is obviously here only to kill time, while a scene in which Rick,
Kirsch and some of the others argue over the role of the military in the post-Cold War era plays like nothing better than an attempt by the scriptwriters to show off how many books they've read. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Research scientists race to save a sinking nuclear submarine in SUB DOWN, an entertaining if routine thriller. The USS Portland sets sail from Washington with three civilian scientists aboard: Harry Rheinhardt (Tom Conti) and his assistant Rick Postley (S… (more)