Stephen Sommers is best-known for directing the first two Mummy movies, but his breakout, Deep Rising, is well worthy of its own praise. Yes, it is a silly movie, and it bombed when it opened in 1998. But it’s a magical kind of silly that results when a killer B-movie premise meets an ensemble cast of random yet great actors.
To sum up what we’re dealing with here, imagine The Thing (both versions) meets Alien (and Aliens) and, uh, The Poseidon Adventure.
Deep Rising is a classic “trapped in a bad place” movie, when a gang of well-armed thieves on the high seas barges into a luxury cruise ship, intent on robbing all its swanky passengers. What the crooks don’t expect is that their captain-for-hire is crafty tough guy John Finnegan (Treat Williams, spouting one-liners and generally doing an amazing Kurt Russell imitation), or that the gleaming yacht—highfalutin’-ly named Argonautica—will be beset upon by cranky sea monsters.
Sea monsters! Giant, grabby tentacles with gruesome flesh-stripping capabilities! Careful which toilet you sit on!
Deep Rising could easily have just been a movie about modern pirates targeting rich partygoers aboard a blinged-out vessel. Maybe there’s a bad storm midway that cuts off communication. Maybe the chef aboard the vessel is actually Steven Seagal. These all could have worked just fine. Hell, even a movie in which Deep Rising’s variously accented bad guys—including, but not limited to, Wes Studi (Last of the Mohicans), Cliff Curtis (Fear the Walking Dead), Jason Flemyng (Snatch), and Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator)—roam around the Pacific, robbing whoever crosses their path (hopefully using bombs that would “make your butt pucker”) would be fun to watch.
If that weren’t enough, we also get Famke “Jean Grey” Janssen as a saucy shipboard cat burglar, Anthony Heald (The Silence of the Lambs) as the Argonautica’s shifty creator, Terry Gilliam regular Derrick O’Conner as the ship’s captain, and character actor Kevin J. O’Connor as Finnegan’s dorky right-hand man.
And we get plenty of gore. Did we emphasize that enough? Nah? Here you go:
This collection of actors ripping into what are otherwise rather one-note characters are a key part of what makes Deep Impact such a good B-movie. But really, it’s a combination of characters/cast, setting (ludicrously fancy boat in the middle of the sea, in the middle of nowhere), ever-rising stakes, a worrying array of weaponry, and freakin’ SEA MONSTERS. This is a golden formula. It should be studied and followed as often as possible. Add more monsters to action movies, Hollywood! Guaranteed peril, terror, and fun.