As everyone knows by now, Waterworld is the most expensive movie ever made. Fierce Pacific thunderstorms, logistical nightmares, a nasty feud between director and star, the star's insistence that scenes be re-shot because he didn't like the way his hair looked -- such were the problems that ran the tab up to between $175 million and $200 million and served to remind the accountants at Universal Pictures that the first syllable in Costner is "cost."
What did they get for their money?
Another summer action fantasy. Another inert performance from Kevin Costner, this time as a mean-spirited loner called the Mariner who's reduced to scavenging the heaving deep in a beat-up trimaran because the polar ice caps have melted. Another psycho-villain turn from Dennis Hopper, as a down-home Mussolini with a cue-ball head and a quart of Jack Daniel's clutched in his fist. Another child (Tina Majorino) who leads the big, bad grownups back to Eden. Another take on The Road Warrior -- featuring the future as a cruel medieval junk heap plunked down in the ocean, where fruit, fresh water, and plain dirt have become coins of the realm.
Waterworld has its moments. The bad guys, who are called Smokers, lay fiery siege to a huge, rusted-out atoll with Ski-Doos and ancient, pontooned Piper Cubs. Wary defenders of the floating city take a closer look at newcomer Costner and discover that he's sprouted gills and webbed feet -- kind of like the mermaid in Splash. Hopper leers and cackles -- pleasures we know well -- and brands his antagonist "the gentleman guppy."
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The script (by Peter Rader and David Twohy) withstands little scrutiny, and love interest Jeanne Tripplehorn proves to be a helpless, throwback heroine. But Kevin Reynolds, Costner's ex-friend, directs the action sequences crisply, and there's got to be a satisfying private joke in the movie's first scene, wherein the ocean-bound Mariner pees in a bottle, pumps the result through a still, and drinks it.
Will Our Hero lighten up and stop throwing children overboard? Of course. Will he finally dispatch the villain? You bet. Will the holy pilgrims ever find a place called Dryland and be redeemed? Take a guess. But first consider the cost to them all. As the Mariner points out in his stupefying drawl: "Nothing's free in Waterworld."
Hey, the suits at the studio could have told you that.