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'The Perfect Storm' is a lackluster wreck

THE PERFECT STORM — ** — George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John Hawkes, Allen Payne, Bob Gunton, Karen Allen; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity); Carmike 12, Plaza 5400 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex Broadway Centre and Holladay Center Cinemas; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons; Redwood Drive-in (with "Shaft").

He's made three hours in a submarine seem exciting ("Das Boot") and helped even the most ridiculous premise seem almost reasonable ("Air Force One"), but even filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen can't salvage the adrift-at-sea wreck that is "The Perfect Storm."

It's hard to recall a recent film as disappointing as this dramatic adventure. Given the subject matter — Sebastian Junger's nonfiction best-seller about the so-called "Storm of the Century" — you would have expected it to be tense, taut and even compelling.

Instead, it turns out to be a surprisingly lackluster big-screen experience, with a first hour so dull you may be asleep by the time the action finally begins. It also features some of the worst, most inane dialogue in an already brain-dead summer movie season.

That said, this sinking ship does nearly right itself in the second half, with some particularly well-played rescues at sea. But by then it's far too late. The damage has already been done.

Besides its treatment of the subject matter, what's most disappointing is that the film manages to waste the talents of a very good cast.

George Clooney stars as Billy Tyne, captain of the underperforming swordfishing boat the Andrea Gail. He and his crew (among them, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly and John Hawkes) have returned from sea with another disappointing haul and, understandably, they're not in the best of spirits.

Facing a hard off-season, financially, Billy talks this rag-tag bunch into making one last fishing run for the year — into farther and more treacherous waters.

However, what they don't know is that they're heading straight into the very worst conditions. There are three weather fronts on a collision course, creating a storm of nightmarish proportions.

Again, it is a slam-bang setup, and one that's based on a true story, which should lend itself to great cinematic treatment. Unfortunately, it takes forever just to get the crew out to sea and for the storm to develop.

The main reason for that is that screenwriter (Bill Witliff, who adapted "Lonesome Dove" for television and scripted "Legends of the Fall") creates extensive back-stories for virtually the entire crew, and the film spends too much time exploring them.

Add to that a too-strident James Horner score that either telegraphs the action way too early or re-emphasizes its "dramatic" nature, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

To his credit, Petersen tries to overcome that — thanks to his direction, the Coast Guard rescue scenes are real nail-biters.

But even the cast doesn't seem very inspired. This isn't one of Clooney's better big-screen performances, and, as the women in the crew's lives, Diane Lane and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio don't fare too well, either.

In fact, of the bunch, only Wahlberg and Reilly's characters are sympathetic.

"The Perfect Storm" is rated PG-13 for violent weather and mayhem, as well as a scuffle and scenes of animated slaughter, occasional profanity (including the so-called "R-rated" curse word), gore and some rather crude discussions. Running time: 135 minutes.