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      Starring Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell. Rated 14A.

      As sure as Irwin Allen was once North America's reigning master of disaster, Poseidon won't be screening on cruise ships anytime soon. If Wolfgang Petersen's big-budget return to the water has a message, it's that floating-hotel patrons have more to worry about than Norwalk-virus outbreaks and double-booked shuffleboard courts. One minute, a couple thousand drunken revellers are ringing in New Year's Eve on the Poseidon, a boat so huge it makes the Titanic look like the SS Minnow. Then, before you can say mayday, a 50-metre rogue wave roars out of the dark, flipping the ship upside down to create the world's largest seagoing coffin. The only way out is to head up through a maze of shafts to the hull.

      Petersen (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) wastes no time in this 100-minute remake of the Allen-produced Poseidon Adventure, an unintentionally campy classic that kicked off a disaster-flick craze in the early '70s. By the 20-minute mark, we've met all the players. There's the ex?–New York City mayor/failed father Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), who is onboard with his fresh-scrubbed daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her blue-balled boyfriend (Mike Vogel). Competing with Ramsey for the role of alpha male is card shark Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas, in an effective if strangely joyless role as an Everyman action hero). The rest of the motley crew includes a jilted gay architect (Richard Dreyfuss), a single mom (Jacinda Barrett) and her beaver-toothed offspring (Jimmy Bennett), and obnoxious gambler Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon, looking like an oily lounge lizard dreamed up by Tom Waits). That these characters are about as developed as those on an average Love Boat episode is beside the point. Poseidon is all about the money shots, the rush starting with a spectacular tsunami-sized wall of water, and then continuing with instant floods, electrocutions, ballroom free falls, and avalanches of upturned restaurant appliances.

      Petersen's biggest achievement is building a believable sense of panic. Claustrophobics will squirm every time someone squeezes into a flooding air duct. And even if your name is Mark Spitz, countless sequences of average Joes and Janes swimming through underwater hallways will leave you gasping for air. Ignore the dozens of logical impossibilities (how exactly do submerged computer panels stay lit?) and Poseidon will float the boat of action-flick fans. The only drag? Well, the fun of the original was watching its overacting tours de force; forget Shelley Winters's famously laboured drowning sequence””the real thrill was watching Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine attempt to outscreech each other. The best we get here is Ramsey arguing with Lucky Larry about whether or not it's socially acceptable to drink while crossing a lake burning with diesel fuel. Still, for the visual pop of such scenes, Allen would be proud, and that makes Poseidon anything but a disaster.