K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Sea Adventure  |   Release Date - Jul 19, 2002 (USA)  |   Run Time - 138 min.  |   Countries - Canada , Germany , United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Karl Williams

A tightly paced and efficiently performed submarine thriller about which there is absolutely nothing original save the fact that the protagonists are Russian, this epic-scale production will satisfy only those who have never seen any other military suspense drama set aboard a submersible. For those who have seen such films as Crimson Tide (1995), U-571 (2000), Das Boot (1981), The Hunt for Red October (1990) and a host of other noble men-trapped-in-tin-cans-below-the-sea nail biters, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) will feel like a rehash at best. Despite its obvious craftsmanship, the only truly intriguing aspect of this bloated production is the science involving the boat's near-nuclear meltdown and the sacrifice that must be made by her engineers to save the rest of the crew and, potentially, the world. Talk about heightening the crisis--but none of these heroic characters are the protagonist. Instead, the audience is treated to a dog-eared soap opera involving the bruised feelings of a demoted skipper (Liam Neeson) and his conflict with a hard-headed political appointee (Harrison Ford), whose determination and bullish single-mindedness of purpose are never explained, leading to an unmotivated "duh!" of a character reversal that's supposed to play like a rousing, three-cheers moment. An overlong act three (the film feels as if it's about to end--and should--no less than three separate times) capped off with a cemetery coda cribbed from Schindler's List (1993) leaves the entire enterprise feeling enervated and top-heavy. K-19: The Widowmaker, in addition to its awful title, is celluloid proof of two things: that Hollywood exists solely to recycle and cannibalize itself, and that if the filmmakers haven't figured out who to root for, the audience certainly won't either.