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‘Leviathan’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 20, 1989

Here we go again into the deep blue yonder.

Unfortunately, "Leviathan" goes where "DeepStar Six" went just a few months ago: underspace. Exploring the ocean depths seems to be this year's sci-fi trend. James ("Terminator") Cameron has "The Abyss" coming out in the fall -- but it's going to be up to Cameron to prove it's a trip worth taking, because "Rambo" director George P. Cosmatos doesn't do much here with a mutant script that borrows from "Alien," "Aliens," "Lifeforce," "Blade Runner," "The Fly" and, for the finale, "Jaws." Because Cosmatos has put together a decent cast and a proficient crew, "Leviathan" is intermittently interesting, but it's a bad sign that the movie starts losing its punch when the monster shows up.

The first 30 minutes of "Leviathan" are actually pretty intriguing as a small deep-sea mining crew goes about the business of excavating silver and other precious metals 16,000 feet down. The underwater scenes are hypnotic in a way that outer-space scenes seldom are anymore, if only because they've become so familiar. It's not just the slow motion and the sense of nature's power and mystery, but the genuine sense of isolation (as in "If you scream in underspace, will anyone hear you?").

The crew -- headed by Peter "RoboCop" Weller -- is a little testy as it approaches the end of a 90-day shift. When they stumble upon Leviathan, a scuttled Russian ship, they do a little scavenging and bring aboard a watertight safe, not knowing that unlocking it is unlocking a Pandora's box of mutant genes (we know this, of course, or we wouldn't be at the theater).

Once the "genetic alteration" (or is that altercation?) begins, "Leviathan" begins to sink under the weight of its many predecessors. The action shifts inside, at which point it makes no difference which environment the victims are in: a ship is a spaceship is a little ship of horrors. The crew members, not too numerous to begin with, begin to be killed off in then-there-were-none fashion, while the evil force becomes the sum of other people's parts, and then some. Ultimately, Stan Winston's special-effects creature looks like a cross between an octopus with an overactive libido and Freddy Krueger's face-body at the end of "Elm Street 4." (Maybe they should have called it "Whalien.")

The unfortunate crew may be plundering the ocean bottom, but so do scriptwriters David Peoples and Jeb Stuart, who manage to mix an "Aliens"-style weapons check with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" gadgetry. On the plus side, Mike Valentine's underwater photography and Ron Cobb's production design for this corporate Sea World are quite good, and those who've always wondered how Amanda Pays would fare in a wet-T-shirt contest may want to catch this film.

"Leviathan" is rated R and contains some graphic violence and special effects.

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