Thursday, January 18, 2018

DEEP RISING & STAR KID: 20 Years Later

by Adam Riske
They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

January 1998 had a plethora of films worthy of being featured in a 20 Years Later article. There was Hard Rain, Half Baked, Desperate Measures, Firestorm, etc., but one I wanted to make sure to cover was Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising. I’ve wanted to see this movie since it was released but didn’t see it in theaters (it was a weird time where the theaters by me were enforcing “the under 17 can’t see R without a parent” rule more regularly) or on DVD (the cover art was lame and that convinced me out of renting it a few times). On the heels of its 20-year anniversary, I couldn’t resist any longer. My short verdict: this movie is not without its charms, but it has some major problems that prevented me from giving myself over to its specific brand of goofiness.

The premise of Deep Rising is one of its strengths. A mercenary crew with mysterious motives goes out to deep sea to link up with a deluxe luxury cruise line. When they arrive (mostly to loot the vessel), they discover it’s a ghost ship. What they all soon learn is that a giant sea monster has burrowed its way in and is drinking the blood of the human passengers one by one. The archetypes in Deep Rising are all rogues or villains (in addition to mercenaries there are thieves, fat cat rich folks and corporate swine) so there is plenty of cannon fodder for the film’s monster to devour along the way.
The cast is led by Treat Williams, in another lean-into-the-camp performance like his role in The Phantom, and Famke Janssen who is funnier and more engaging here than I usually find her. She makes for a solid action co-hero and is skilled with the tossed off one-liners. I like that the cast is deep with character actors, but I wish I liked the characters they are playing more. There are a few exceptions. Coming out best (besides Williams and Janssen) are Wes Studi and Djimon Hounsou, who are fun and interesting actors getting to strut their stuff here, but the weak spot for Deep Rising is the barrage of annoying supporting players. I’m always conflicted when it comes to annoying characters because in most cases it means the actor is doing a good job playing that type of person. However, they’re still annoying, which is an emotion most people prefer to avoid. This film has an avalanche of annoying in the likes of Jason Flemyng, Anthony Heald, and especially Stephen Sommers staple Kevin J. O’Connor, who is cinema death in Deep Rising. The upside is the movie knows this and has a few jokes at this character’s expense. My favorite is (SPOILER) when Wes Studi is being eaten by the monster and motions to Kevin J. O’ Connor to give him his gun as an act of mercy. O’ Connor does and Studi tries to shoot and kill him with it before pointing it on himself. It’s a very funny beat and my favorite moment in the movie. (END SPOILER).

I admire Deep Rising’s spunk and that a lot of shit happens over the course of its runtime. It’s not a lazy movie. The ship is vast and the sets change enough to keep things interesting, there are a few fun action beats (e.g. the jet ski escape from the ship at the end) and it’s charming in its quaintness, as this era (era) of theatrical sci fi-horror is not as in-fashion anymore. I’d put Deep Rising somewhere in the middle of the pack of its ‘90s peers - between Deep Blue Sea and The Relic seems right. One big issue is Deep Rising came at a bad time VFX-wise for monster movies. After the success of Jurassic Park earlier, the middle and later parts of the ‘90s were riddled with bad CGI and Deep Rising is a movie with a very cartoony monster and obvious green-screen backdrops. It’s distracting and took me out of the film several times.
All in all, I’m happy I finally saw Deep Rising, even if I expected to enjoy it more based on its reputation. It mostly made me nostalgic for the Hollywood Pictures era (era) of schlock, when Disney was diversified enough in their studios to offer all kinds of entertainment and not just tentpoles and IP-related content. Those days seem to be numbered. It also made me miss director Stephen Sommers a little bit. I’m mixed on his filmography (I like The Jungle Book, The Mummy and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; I do not like The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing) but he’s the kind of journeyman director I think we need more of: pros who know how to deliver competent action cinema. I’d rather bet on Sommers than one more indie director for Hollywood to chew up and spit out like a CGI sea monster.
This week I also re-watched Star Kid, starring Jurassic Park’s Joseph Mazzello, aka the George Harrison of male ‘90s child actors, and directed by the man with the great baseball name, Manny Coto of Dr. Giggles fame. I’ve always liked Mazzello because he was such an earnest kid on screen. I was too, so I identified with him. He’s the type of guy who if you say “Come by at 8:30” he’s there at 8:28 just to be safe. There’s no wild card with Mad Mazz. Star Kid came around at an interesting time because he was sort of too old for a movie like this and I was too old to be watching a movie like this, but here we both were. Some of my excuse was I followed the supporting Park cast everywhere. His excuse was this is one of those precious last leads. It’s like he’s the “Star Kid” in Star Kid, but on another level, he’s the star, kid. It was a box office bomb (so was Deep Rising) for its studio Trimark, (the house that Mark Jones built) and the film faded into obscurity before being looted for ideas by Iron Man ten years later. Look, I know Iron Man is a character from comic books that pre-date Star Kid, but if you watch Star Kid you’ll see that it’s pretty much doing Iron Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming before those two did the same thing on screen. I’m not saying Star Kid is better, but give it some props, yo!

Star Kid is about as basic as ‘90s live-action kid movies get and that’s part of the charm. I loved that formula growing up. Mazzello plays Spencer, a 12-year-old nerd who loves science and comic books, who is being picked on by a bully and is scared to talk to a girl he’s crushing on in school. After a tarantula bravery metaphor with his science teacher, Spencer builds up enough confidence to investigate a star that fell from the sky nearby. What he discovers is Sy, a benevolent alien robot suit which Spencer can step into, becoming a superhero like the ones he reads about in his beloved comics. The first two-thirds of the film are that setup, including several scenes where Spencer negotiates how to function in the suit (How do I eat? How do I pee? Why is this refrigerator on my head?). It ramps up to a climax where an evil alien falls to Earth to wipe out Sy, destroy Sy’s planet and later come back to conquer Earth. Sy’s kind (the Trelkans…you’ve heard of them, right?) are the only ones that can stop that from happening and they need Spencer’s help right now or else.
Star Kid isn’t an all-timer (because it’s Star Kid, I’m not stupid) but I enjoyed revisiting it. It represented a rage at the dying of the light in some respects: a) it was one of those last ‘90s mall movies before those movies played primarily at non-mall cinemas, b) it was the last lead Mazzello that cashed in on that Park clout and c) it was a kid movie I gravitated too because I was 15 and not quite ready to grow up yet. Some of my peers couldn’t wait to be adults, but I was not one of them. In that sense, Star Kid gives me a certain amount of nostalgia because it was a time in my life where I, too, feared what was out there, just like Spencer. But in my case, I got a driver’s license (Car Kid), contact lenses and hair gel instead of a robot suit. Also, how often do we get live action movies for kids anymore? Not much. And even when we do, there’s usually a CGI chipmunk or a rabbit beating the shit out of Hux from Star Wars. Star Kid is a mall movie for kids and kids need mall movies too.

I kind of want to get married in a mall. Rehearsal dinner at the food court. Happy to pay for the Subway.


  1. YES! Thank you for the retrospective on Deep Rising, glad you had some fun with it...

  2. Potential movies from February 1998 worth discussing:

    Blues Brothers 2000, Sphere, Palmetto, Senseless, Kissing a Fool, Krippendorf's Tribe

    1. Sorry bud. February has been picked already. Stay tuned!

    2. Oh I will find out what film from that month you have chosen!

    3. 2 has a friend and one stars an actor with the initials BW. Those are your hints.

    4. Kissing A Fool & The Real Blonde?

    5. Yes to the first, no to the second (the other one is Caught Up)

  3. Thanks Adam. Your articles always make me smile.