Directed By: David S. Ward
Screenplay By: Andrew Kurtzman, Eliot Wald, Hugh Wilson
Story By: Hugh Wilson
Produced By: Robert Lawrence
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Rob Schneider, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, William H. Macy, Harland Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 92 minutes
Review Date: October 8, 2010
How funny is a man with a tattooed dick? It’s kind of a barometer question for enjoying Down Periscope, because it’s the film’s most persistent gag. Short of being the Navy’s biggest screw-up, it’s what submarine Lieutenant Commander Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer) is best known for. The tattoo’s message? “All Aboard.”
The film’s reputation precedes it, and it largely lives up to that notoriety for being a groan-worthy, sub-standard comedy (no pun intended). Dodge and the usual rag-tag crew of misfits are ordered to board an aging diesel sub and play the aggressor in a series of war games, earning them a chance to prove themselves. Grammer plays Dodge as an affable, carefree sort, proud of his job, if given more to golf than deep-sea dives. He’s playing against type here, and does a passable job, though it’s a lot more fun seeing him as a flustered straight man than a misunderstood wildcard.
His crew is comprised of oddballs, like a high-strung protocol fanatic who barks his dialogue (Rob Schneider), or a sonar expert obsessed with whale calls (Harland Williams). Unsurprisingly, the gags are mostly dependent on the crew’s quirks, like a sloppy cook who drops a band-aid - and the fingernail it had been applied to - into the food (Ken Hudson Campbell), or a dim-witted electrician (Toby Huss) who, when Dodge orders the sub to dive, asks “Does he mean underwater?” There’s a long sequence in which the cook rips a loud fart during silent running, giving away their position and choking his crewmates. That should tell you all you need to know about the script’s quality.
It’s a shame, too, because there’s a surprising amount of talent in this movie, including William H. Macy, Harry Dean Stanton, Rip Torn and Bruce Dern. Stanton gets a few brief moments to shine as a creepy engineer who cackles madly as the sub begins to creak and leak, but for the most part, they’re all wasted in this, and presumably in it for a paycheck.
If Down Periscope has an upside, it’s that the story speeds along at a torpedo’s pace. It’s not exactly painful - just predictable and a little dull.
Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.