Asking the rest of the film to live up to such a ghastly opening is like asking a rinky-dink tugboat to tow a mammoth ocean liner across the ocean. Ironically, that's exactly what Ghost Ship does. Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) owns the tugboat in question, and he employs "the best damn salvage crew in the business." In reality, they're a tough-talking, hard-drinking cast of carefully handpicked racial stereotypes, from an African-American first mate (Isaiah Washington) to a Mexican engineer (Alex Dimitriades) to an Italian salvage team leader (Julianna Margulies), who's a female, to boot.
They also have a new job. A pilot (Desmond Harrington) approaches the crew with photos of an abandoned ship he spotted drifting in the Bering Strait. After a hasty setup peppered with the perfect amount of adolescent schoolyard dialogue, Murphy and his crew venture off to sea to retrieve what could be a fortune in boat scraps. What they find is a haunted vessel carting around the souls of the slaughtered passengers. The ghosts have an agenda, and Murphy and his crew have a bit more on their plate than anticipated.
Ghost Ship goes for the gore, but skimps on the scares. Bloated bodies and severed heads float through swimming pools of blood, but the leap-from-your-seat factor is decidedly dialed down. If you can handle doors opening and closing on their own, you can sail through this Ship with ease.
As the hardass, whiskey-slugging, crusty old sea captain Murphy, Byrne is ... well, he's a crusty old hardass. He and the rest of the cast, including Margulies and Ron Eldard, do what they can with their thin profiles. But these people are never characters, they're sitting ducks. Feisty ducks with attitude and more than a hint of greed, but ducks all the same. I will admit that the eclectic cast of minorities kept me guessing which bit player would bite the dust first. That's always a fun way to pass the time during these generic thrillers.
The screenplay, credited to Mark Hanlon and John Pogue, tips its hand a bit earlier than necessary. Modern touches found onboard the boat imply that others have boarded the ship since it first disappeared in 1962. Murphy is even handed the final piece of the puzzle about halfway through the movie, removing the suspense for the rest of us.
The ship itself is a decent, if decrepit, set piece that calls to mind James Cameron's old Titanic sets on more than one occasion. Cinematographer Gale Tattersall's images are routinely dark and dank, but that's to be expected from a film that takes place in the middle of the ocean in the dead of night. British-born Tattersall occasionally intersperses some backlit daytime shots that create portrait-quality images of the grand ocean liner. Mainly they suggest he longs to be back in the Mother Country shooting a more artsy picture on the rolling hills of England as opposed to lensing a gory horror flick on a confined soundstage. Perhaps he should send a resume and reel over to the Merchant-Ivory offices.
Ship isn't awful. The explanations are rushed (because they're illogical) and the resolutions are poor. But it's gory when it needs to be, and it knows not to overstay its welcome. The starboard side is left swinging open for a sequel, in case the kiddies decide that Ghost Ship rocks as hard as its market-tested techno-metal soundtrack. There's just no accounting for taste these days.
The DVD includes a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, mainly focusing on the film's creepy special effects. If for some reason you're enthralled by Mudvayne, well, a music video from the band is also on the disc.
Why does mommy look so butch?
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 25th October 2002
Box Office USA: $30.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $68.3M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Dark Castle Entertainment, NPV Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 107
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Steve Beck
Starring: Gabriel Byrne as Captain Sean Murphy, Julianna Margulies as Maureen Epps, Desmond Harrington as Jack Ferriman, Ron Eldard as Dodge, Isaiah Washington as Greer, Karl Urban as Munder, Emily Browning as Katie Harwood, Francesca Rettondini as Francesca, Bob Ruggiero as Captain (as Robert Ruggiero)