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Summer Chills

The Perfect Storm pours on the suspense

n a fit of unexpected journalistic integrity I decided to balance my natural, hipster pre-disdain of a Dolby-surrounded fiasco film like The Perfect Storm with the presence of some hopefully otherwise-leaning new friends: a real live San Francisco fishing boat skipper named Captain Frank Rescino, his wife and his son. Frank's berth at Fisherman's Wharf has been in the family for three generations, since his Italian immigrant grandfather purchased it in 1908, presumably for a buffalo nickel. If I couldn't remotely relate to the perils of the commercial fishing world, Captain Frank and his family undoubtedly could. They are what the charcoal-voiced movie trailer guy would call (ominous tone), "The Perfect Audience."

The Perfect Storm runs a lot like this review. It only really begins about three quarters of the way through the film, when the first catastrophic black waves finally begin to pour over the hull of George Clooney and Marky Mark's (Wahlberg, my ass!) ill-fated sword fishing boat, the Andrea Gail. The first hour or so amounts to an in-depth tour of back-story hell. Surprisingly, the film's dialogue is several notches above the average action movie banter, but the plot is as unique as a Happy Meal. The dramatic stakes are set-up and re-set-up in lengthy scenes meant to establish motivations for each of the crewmembers to return home from the fishing excursion alive, and more importantly, rich with fish. A slew of sassy girlfriends, needy ex-wives, protective mothers, pushy boat owners and sappy ex-children ("I don't want a new Dad.") are plopped into the shallow emotional stew, providing each main character with the plot equivalent of a convenient wallet-sized photo to get teary over when the saltwater really starts to hit the fan, which thankfully, it finally does.

"I just wanted to see the wave," Captain Frank sums up afterward. Damn skippy, skipper. It's what all of us are waiting for. And when we do see the wave, we aren't sorry one bit. The special effects are nothing short of being damn good. When the action finally revs up, Director Wolfgang Peterson lays it on thick with a brilliant series of edge-of-your-contoured-stadium-style-seat scenarios, each rivaling the last in suspense, violence and rising cubic-feet of briny water.

Did the emotional back-story pull on Captain Frank's seafaring heartstrings? "Gimme a break, man." According to Frank, the only thing the elongated preamble to the storm does well is to paint the character of commercial fishermen. "Being squirrelly and goofy, with tremendous ego and tremendous pride. That's a fisherman." His wife chimes in, "And stupid." Frank laughs and nods, "And stupid."

The Perfect Storm pic03 In the end, Frank and I couldn't help but wonder why the filmmakers didn't just scrap the plot altogether, bump the film up a floor to the IMAX theater, squirt the audience with the occasional stream of lukewarm tap water, and re-name the damn thing "The IMAX Big Wave Experience in 4-D!" Hey, I'd see that twice.

Captain Frank runs salmon sportfishing day trips and Bay Tours off his boat, Lovely Martha. Call 650.871.1691 for reservations or visit www.LovelyMartha.com for more details.


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The Perfect Storm
rated PG-13
2 hours 9 minutes

George Clooney
Mark Wahlberg
Diane Lane
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
John C. Reilly

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