Down Periscope (1996) / Comedy-War

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and innuendo
Running Time: 92 min.


Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Bruce Dern, Lauren Holly, Rob Schneider, William H. Macy, Rip Torn, Jonathan Penner, Harland Williams, Harry Dean Stanton, Ken Hudson Campbell, Toby Huss, Duane Martin, Bradford tatum
Director: David S. Ward
Screenplay: Hugh Wilson, Robert Lawrence, Stanley Wilson
Review published July 11, 2005

Down Periscope is a comedy without laughs.  It's goofy, light, and amiable, but it's just not funny.  It's so unfunny, it is actually painful to see just how hard they try to be funny and fail.  In fact, the only time the film seems to work is when it stops trying to be funny, which happens increasingly as the film nears the end. Strange, but had this played as a drama instead, perhaps there would have been more laughs due to a subtler approach, but the makers of the movie intend to deliver a broad, hilarious farce, the stuff of which screenwriter Hugh Wilson seems incapable of delivering.  The worst kinds of comedies are ones where the jokes are obviously forced, and Down Periscope's gags are squeezed in so indelicately, a laugh track wouldn't have made them any more obvious.  It would also have been the only laughter heard in the theater.

TV's "Frasier", Kelsey Grammer stars as Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge, a long-time Navy man that wants his own submarine command, but his superiors think he's too much of a loose screw to be given the chance.  His superior, Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Dern, After Dark My Sweet), concocts a sure-fire way to appease Dodge, but see that he fails, when he puts him in command of the biggest rust bucket the navy has to offer, along with a motley crew of losers, in an exercise of command that should have Dodge failing easily and put into a desk job.  

Fraternity style hijinks usually makes for some modest lowbrow laughs, but Down Periscope just can't deliver on anything it sets out to do.  Problems occur right from the casting standpoint, as Grammer exudes little of the charisma required to make his character seem remotely likeable enough to get behind.  Bruce Dern is a Navy admiral out to see the mission fail, but stop -- the fact that shifty-eyed, soft-spoken Bruce Dern is playing a hard-nosed Admiral with an agenda should already tell you it won't work.  The rest of the cast is appropriately goofy, yet none of the situations are funny enough to merit a chuckle.  Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick, 50 First Dates) is especially grating as the boat's executive officer, shouting at the top of his lungs, but never nailing down even an ounce of the vitriolic anger required of such a role.

Down Periscope might meet well for those who like all of the Police Academy films, no matter how juvenile they became.  Only someone that laughs at anything, even the most stupid of jokes, will come away thinking this was time well spent in the comedy department.  Shamefully lazy in almost every way, you'll find yourself laughing more at the obvious use of old stock Navy footage for the external shots than anything the screenwriters are able to muster in this vapid script.  Over the end credits, the cast sings "In the Navy" music video style with members of the Village People in an apparent attempt to help theater owners clear the theaters more quickly.   

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo