Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter, Zakes Mokae. (1995, PG-13, 135 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 4, 1995
If you can work your way past the monumental anti-hype and ill-will surrounding this most expensive of all films, you'll find Reynolds and Costner's enfant terrible of a movie isn't so terrible after all. With a budget hovering around the $200 million mark and a backlog of cast and crew horror stories so colossal they make Cimino's Heaven's Gate-woes pale in comparison (the hurricane that destroyed the main set was a nice touch), Waterworld has been a project under siege almost from day one. That makes it all the more pleasant to find out that the film is actually quite good, as far as gargantuan summer blockbusters go (certainly, it's vastly more entertaining and technically superior to the sounds-like-a-threat-to-me Batman Forever). Set in a future where an unknown cataclysm has melted the polar ice caps, Waterworld is just that: an environment sans terra firma. Sailing, rowing, and, occasionally flying across this vast, murky expanse are the last footholds of humanity: the Atollers, who have banded together to create a semblance of normalcy atop a vast, floating community; the Smokers (so named because of their penchant for cigarettes; where, though, do they get all these non-soggy cancer sticks?), a vile group of marauders led by the predictably over-the-top Hopper; and -- our hero -- the Mariner (Costner), a lone, web-footed scavenger who cruises the ocean searching for barterable goods (like, say, dirt). When the Mariner, after an attack by the Smokers, is unwillingly pressed into aid by a stranded woman and her young female charge (Tripplehorn and Majorino, respectively), he must choose between a solitary life on the sea or the more noble (albeit less palatable) route of Savior of Humankind. If this sounds familiar to you, that's because Reynolds' film is essentially George Miller's Mad Max remade by Greenpeace; it's almost uncanny how much Reynolds and screenwriters Peter Rader and David Twohy have borrowed from Miller's film (and, going further back, several Kurosawa epics and, of course, Shane), so much so that it sometimes grates on your nerves. That aside, Waterworld succeeds nicely on its own merits. Sure, there's the occasional plot hole that gapes wider than the toothy maw of Spielberg's Jaws, but Costner's misanthropic characterization of the Mariner -- not to mention all the terrific “so that's where all that money went!” stunts -- allows you to forget all that logic stuff for a while and just have a rollicking good time watching things blow up all over the place. Nowhere near the Hollywood disaster that was foretold, Waterworld is a near-model summer fantasy: two hours and 21 minutes of loud, expansive fun.