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‘Waterworld’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 28, 1995

"Waterworld" isn't "Fishtar," but Kevin Costner's pricey, post-apocalyptic sloshbuckler isn't a seafaring classic either. In this silly futuristic adventure, the polar icecaps have melted, and what's left of humanity is clustered like barnacles on man-made atolls. Menaced by evil "Smokers," the survivors all long for someone to lead them to the legendary Dryland—ergo, the Prince of Thieves becomes the Prince of Tides.

While cigarettes, ice cube trays and other ancient flotsam are plentiful, this bizarre world is curiously devoid of sea birds, whales and other creatures that would naturally thrive after a great flood. Of course, these improbabilities wouldn't matter if viewers were distracted by humor, innovation or a clear, cohesive vision. Though Costner is too glum as a nomadic fish man, he showed the right instincts when he took over from director Kevin Reynolds and attempted to turn the mythic epic into an action filma kind of "Road Warrior Goes Snorkeling."

"Waterworld" is a little bit of both. But for the most part, Costner had his way. Whether it's the rusting scrap-metal sets or the gas-guzzling bad guys, the movie takes its cues from George Miller's "Mad Max" movies. And like the Australian superhero, Costner is a nomadic loner with no love for people and no family to tie him down. Only he was born with webbed feet, gill slits and the personality of a giant fish stick.

A negative sort of guy, he has no name—though Gil seems to suit—and no known origin: He could be an evolutionary fluke or the son of Mrs. Paul and Charlie the Tuna for all anybody knows. Either way, he is a mighty fine swimmer, regularly diving to the old cities below the sea to scavenge items for trade with the atoll-dwellers. Not as friendly as they first seem, the atoll people lock him up as a mutant and are preparing to "recycle" him when along comes the Smoker chieftain, Deacon (Dennis Hopper, giddy on malevolence).

Noah had an ark, Gilligan had his island, but Deacon has the Exxon Valdez. The rotting tanker is home to his men and his stockpile of smokes, Jack Daniel's and jet skis. He fuels the skis, jet surfers and so forth with what remains of the tanker's dwindling oil supply and tosses packs of butts to the Smokers to keep them occupied between forays. The bad guys, a rowdy band of cartoon miscreants, retain the qualities that got mankind into this mess in the first place.

While they're out looting, the atoll-dwellers are peacefully recycling their dead and purifying their own urine as drinking water. Gil, who decants a glass of his own personal Evian in the opening scene, is trapped between the two sides when the Smokers attack. With the help of the atoll's beautiful barmaid, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), he manages to escape in his ingeniously jury-rigged trimaran.

In repayment for her help, Helen and her adopted daughter, Enola (Tina Majorino), have insisted on coming along for the ride. Gil, a misogynist, is miffed when they start messing with his boat, but he soon shows the female who's the boss. He bashes Helen over the head with an oar, sells her into prostitution (but changes his mind), tosses the kid overboard (but changes his mind) and chops off their hair. Fortunately, Helen and Enola shower him with affection and he becomes much nicer and talks more as they search for Dryland, all the while pursued by the Deacon.

"Waterworld," credited to screenwriters Peter Rader and David Twohy, is as simplistic as most other action adventures, but its story line is sometimes hard to follow, perhaps because so much footage has been cut. Their chief contribution is the concept itself, which is realized with moldering artiness by the design staff. Though the waterworlders' preference for leather and metal garb instead of Speedos seems most strange.

Tripplehorn's sheer sexiness in her fishnet sheath brightens up the picture, but she's basically wasted as a generic action love interest. Majorino, seen last summer in "Corrina, Corrina," is pivotal as the spunky but never cloying Enola, whose tattooed back allegedly is a map of the route to Dryland. Costner, whose part has fewer lines than Schwarzenegger usually gets, is athletically impressive and convincing in his cold-blooded way. He may be unpleasant, but there's no reason to expect smolder from a smelt.

"Waterworld" is rated PG-13 for violence, language, partial nudity and child endangerment.

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