For much of the distance, tolerably -- but true to the fashion of the times, overaggressively -- entertaining. Very fast out of the starting blocks (very fast at sinking a U.S. nuclear sub to the bottom of the Caribbean), and quite exhausting in the rate at which one problem follows on another. But then there are those UFOs -- Underwater Flying Objects, as some wiseacre dubs them. What are they? What, moreover, could they be up to, down there on the floor of the ocean? And is that their normal stomping ground or have they alighted there from some distant planet? These aliens play peekaboo at intervals throughout, but they are by and large irrelevant to the rescue operation, and are far too infrequently on screen, far too unknown an entity, to remotely justify the Second Advent atmosphere of the finale. Certain visual cues, in observance of the laws governing Pavlov's dogs, are perhaps meant to transport us into an erstwhile mystical mood: the colored lights on the helmet visor à la 2001; the spindly and pasty-faced alien out of Close Encounters; the skeletal helping hand (short a finger or two) reaching out and touching human digits as in the E.T. posters. We must assume (if we want to minimize embarrassment) that these things are not so much sneakily plagiarized as proudly and openly paraphrased. But other movies can't be expected to pitch in and do the bulk of the work. And it's a particular shame to see a movie whose virtues have been blue-collar ones such as industriousness and pragmatism suddenly turn parasitic and cynical. With Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio; written and directed by James Cameron. (1989) — Duncan Shepherd
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