Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Final Countdown (1980)

Sweet, if fleeting, Twilight Zone-esque flick about an aircraft carrier that gets warped back to 1941 Pearl Harbor, a day before the attack from Japan. The story is set up almost like a late 70s disaster picture; everyone has their own little defining character quirks, and the ensemble stands out more than any one lead. That being said, I don't have to tell you that Kirk Douglas plays a fat, swinging dick of a captain, whose concern for his crew overrides any grander notions of power. Martin Sheen plays a DOD suit charged with analyzing the crew and reporting any misconduct. James Farentino is the stalwart pilot, who happens to be writing a nonfiction book on WWII. Ron O'Neal is Douglas's loyal, but hot-headed second-in-command. Charles Durning and Katherine Ross play a WWII-era Senator and his secretary, respectively, who get caught up with the drama. The story mostly involves the ethical implications of launching a pre-emptive strike against the approaching Japanese fleet; should they take the initiative, and avenge an attack that hasn't been made yet, or rest and let history safely play out as it should? That central conceit holds the movie afloat, and keeps the tension and character work interesting for the running time. Still, there is nothing here that matches the cerebral musings of the best Twilight Zones, and the military hardware, although impressive, takes up far too much screen time. The same cannot be said for Troma President Lloyd Kaufman, who has a tragically small role as a communications officer on board.

Recommended for fans of sci-fi parables, a la Zone or The Outer Limits, or strong naval stories. Or, of course, people who can't get enough of Mr. Douglas's gloriously inflamed cleft (like me).

P.S. There is an interview with Kaufman on the DVD, where he admits that he believed, as a production manager, that the movie was dead in the water due to a cantankerous cast and crew, and the only things that saved it were the efforts of producer Peter Douglas, and Kirk Douglas, whose professionalism seems unbelievably strong for when he was at this point in his career. Kaufman lovingly recalls Kirk's reaction after watching him do his cameo: "You're a better actor than you are a producer, and you're not a good actor." "That was Kirk," Kaufman says. I believe it.

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