In the entire Navy, you will never meet another man like Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer, TV's Frasier). Dodge has earned a rascally reputation within our country's waterlogged military force, for two reasons: 1) He came close to having a BIG accident when he brushed up against a Soviet submarine, and 2) He has the words "Welcome Aboard" tattooed on a portion of his anatomy that I personally try to keep sharp objects away from. When Tom is promoted to sub commander (a job he's always wanted) by the amiable Admiral Winslow (Rip Torn, Men In Black II), Dodge thinks he's made it to the big leagues. Unfortunately, Tom's submarine is a run down relic with more rust on it than a Texas truck on cinderblocks. Even worse, Tom's assigned crew is a collection of rag tag misfits (including Harland Williams, Rob Schneider, and Lauren Holly) who rank high on the personality scale but seemingly low on the competency chart. Tom is given a chance to prove himself during a war game, one that could lead him to an even bigger promotion. Although, to do so, he'll have to defeat his biggest nemesis, the vindictive Admiral Graham (the endlessly entertaining Bruce Dern, The 'Burbs). It's up to Dodge and his crew to prove they've got what it takes to be one the best vessels in the sea!
You'll be hard pressed to find a comedy about the Navy as lazily innocuous as Down Periscope. Oh wait, I forgot the Tom Arnold dud McHale's Navy—now there's a stinker. No matter. For my money, Down Periscope is even less exciting and brings nothing new to any genre, be it submarine warfare or slapstick comedy. A note to Fox: 1990 called and they'd like their movie back.
Kelsey Grammer—obviously attempting to distance himself from Dr. Frasier Crane—leads a crew of misbegotten misfits who aren't all that interesting through a screenplay that isn't all that funny. To make up for the lackluster writing (the script was conceived and co-written by Hugh Wilson, director of Police Academy), the cast do goofy voices, mug for the camera, or just act like complete goons. Harland Williams and Rob Schneider are the worst offenders, each parlaying their tired "shtick" into sketchily drawn characters like "Guy Who Can Make Funny Sonar Noises" and "Guy Who's Uptight And Acts Like A Weasel." Oddly enough, on the other side of the screen, is some top notch supporting talent, like Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and a pre-Fargo William H. Macy (!) as one of Dodge's war game opponents. What does this all mean for the viewer? Well, very little in the way of entertainment. In the film's wittiest line, Dodge's first mate (upon seeing the rust encrusted ship) quips, "I think I need a tetanus shot just looking at it!" Har-har-har.
Down Periscope is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fox has done a decent job at making sure the picture looks consistent and solid. The colors and black levels are all well rendered, without any major imperfections marring the image. While this picture looks decent, it's nothing that will truly impress. This is, after all, a comedy from the middle-to-late 1990s. Included on the flip side is a 1.33:1 full frame version of the film, though it's not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in Spanish and French. The sound mix for Down Periscope is good in some spots, and only so-so in others. During the underwater sequences with the submarines both the front and rear speakers are fully engaged. Otherwise, the bulk of this mix feels front heavy. All aspects of the mix are clear of any hiss and distortion. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
As is often the case with catalog titles from most studios, Down Periscope doesn't feature any additional supplements for fans to browse. Then again, are you really complaining that loudly about the lack of a commentary track for this film?
While Down Periscope can hardly be called the bottom of the barrel, it isn't far off. Sadly, I think Grammer will have to accept that fans will always know him as Dr. Crane, and Dr. Crane only. Hey, when you've been playing a character for two decades you're bound to paint yourself into a corner. Which, coincidentally, is what I'd rather do than watch Down Periscope again.
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