Down Periscope (1996) – A Review
Lt. Cmdr Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer) is expecting a sweet assignment. Instead Vice Admiral Winslow (Rip Torn) informs him he’ll be taking command of the rusted diesel-fueled WWII sub U.S.S. Stingray. He will participate in a unique wargame to test the defenses of the Navy’s newest nuclear sub which will be commanded by Dodge’s former CO (William Macy).
Rear Admiral Graham (Bruce Dern) who has an intense dislike for Dodge makes sure to make things even more difficult for him by arranging that his crew is made up of the most notorious outcasts in the navy.
With the deck stacked up against him can Dodge turn his fortunes around, get his crew of screw-ups to work together and prove that all the most hi-tech hardware means nothing against an outside-the-box thinking commander?
Grammer is and always will be best known as Frasier Crane. Frasier is an intelligent character and something of a sophisticate and Grammer mined him for every ounce of laughs possible for an extraordinarily long time.
Which makes his choice of playing Tom Dodge so surprising. The characters are nothing alike and it seems something like a step down from the work he had been doing on television for so long.
Perhaps that’s why he decided to play this part, simply because the character was so different. It must of seemed like a novelty to get a chance to play a guy who’s notorious for having a tattoo on his penis.
But Dodge isn’t as much of a screwup and is more capable than I would have thought based on this premise. He also is much more the straight character surrounded by this misfit crew. So Grammer doesn’t have much to play.
I would have loved if he got to do more dry sarcasm, which Grammer is very funny with. He doesn’t even get to do exhaustive annoyance in this flick.
Surprisingly Grammer isn’t bad with what he has, which really isn’t all that much. Plus, the shadow of Frasier just disappears and never hangs over him during this infantile exercise.
He somehow avoids being cornered in by a character he has played for twenty years when he’s done other roles and it doesn’t become a ball and chain he has to carry around. I’m not sure why that is, but I never think of Frasier when I see him in other projects.
As for the movie itself, it’s basically ‘Police Academy’ at sea with an extremely simple predictable story that’s meant to have the laughs take center stage. There’s the pack of outcasts who have to work together to get the job done and hilarity commences.
Many of the characters in Down Periscope seem to be descendants of the Police Academy characters. Fans should easily be able to see the similarities. The zany, accident-prone electronics man, the sound effect sonar man, the disgruntled recruit trying to get kicked out, the angry officer, the hot babe, the evil commander who’s trying his darndest to sabotage this motley crew.
I’d have to stretch and say the fat sloppy cook is like Schtulman from Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. But all they needed was a soft-spoken, non-threatening looking little lady and a cameo by Bubba Smith and Down Periscope could have been an official spinoff from the Police Academy series!
The humor is mainly silly sightgags, pratfalls and goofy antics by the crew. There’s nothing special about any of it. Rob Schneider hits his face into a ladder, guy falls into a vat of oil, electrician gets shocked – it’s all that kind of stuff and none of it is particularly funny.
I was sitting stonefaced watching it all. I finally perked up for the one scene of Lauren Holly wearing a shrunken uniform with her cleavage prominently displayed. I had completely forgot about that bit. She does look good in this – in that scene in particular.
I don’t think I have much more to say about this. Well, Harry Dean Stanton is kind of amusing in a brief, very small role as the whiskey-swilling engineer. Grammer looks game to be in a wacky comedy, but his crew are the ones who try to get most of the laughs and that consistently falls overboard. Oh and of course Lauren Holly’s cleavage. There’s nothing more that stands out from this movie.
It could have been a fun idea updating the navy-set comedies from the past like Operation Petticoat and Mister Roberts, but Down Periscope relies on so much silly slapstick and cartoon-y characters I found it to be more juvenile than funny. The trailer for this movie is a perfect description of what you’re going to get from it.