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Hal Hinson - Style section,
Kelsey Grammer is Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge, who has been waiting for his own boat for 20 years. But every time his name comes up, the Navy brass concludes that he is too reckless to command one of its costly nuclear subs.
By putting Dodge in charge of the Stingray, an old diesel sub left over
from World War II, the admirals figure to
hedge their bets. If it's lost at sea, who cares? It was a tub
anyway. The Stingray's mission is to outfox the entire U.S. nuclear fleet and demonstrate how
vulnerable the country is to attack from Russian diesel subs. If Dodge can pull it off, maybe he'll be given a
a real submarine. -- Hal Hinson
'Periscope': Below Sea Level
By Hal Hinson
Surely, at some time or another, you've thought to yourself that what this country needs is a damn good submarine comedy. You know, something like a movie version of "McHale's Navy" but underwater, where, as everyone knows, stuff is funnier.
Well then, swabbie, "Down Periscope" is the answer to your prayers. There hasn't been much in the way of nautical humor in recent decades, and this feeble starring vehicle for Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier" makes you understand why. But even if the genre weren't on its last legs, this rehashing of old service-comedy riffs would probably finish it off.
Written and directed by David Ward (auteur of "Major League" and "Major League II"), the movie features Grammer as Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge, the reluctant ranking officer on the USS Stingray, an old diesel sub left over from World War II.
Dodge has been waiting for his own boat for 20 years, but every time his name comes up, the Navy brass concludes that he is too reckless to command one of its costly nuclear subs. (The placement of a tattoo on a certain very sensitive part of his anatomy is all the evidence they seem to need.)
By putting Dodge in charge of the Stingray, the admirals figure to hedge their bets. If it's lost at sea, who cares? It was a tub anyway.
The crew of the Stingray is just as expendable. As you'd expect, they're a wacky bunch of misfits who turn the Navy upside down. Their mission is to outfox the entire U.S. nuclear fleet by sneaking, first, into Charleston harbor, then into Norfolk to demonstrate how vulnerable the country is to attack from Russian diesel subs. It's a million-to-one shot, but if Dodge can pull it off, maybe—just maybe—he'll be given a real submarine.
Though "Down Periscope" is set in the age of the nuclear submarine, the jokes seem to date back to the time of the original battle of the ironclads. The level of sophistication here is perhaps best exemplified by the scene in which the Stingray's position during a silent run is given away by the cook with his not-so-silent (but certainly deadly) reaction to a can of beans.
Surprisingly, Grammer manages to wander through this mess without much of it sticking to him. Given the material, he's remarkably assured—at times, even expert. The same cannot be said for "Saturday Night Live" alum Rob Schneider, who bellows and mugs throughout the film, or "Picket Fences" star Lauren Holly.
Even the inimitable Rip Torn is a bore, and I didn't think that was possible. More laid-back here than he is on television, Grammer seems to barely break a sweat. Yet, somehow, the laconic ease of his delivery feels just about right. Granted, he's no Ernest Borgnine, but then again, there are worse things.
‘Down Periscope’ is rated PG-13.