Irwin Allen certainly delivered the goods when it came to disaster; his Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno double-whammy set the box-office aflame, but Allen had problems following up, and the movies that followed The Swarm, When Time Ran Out and this sequel, are notable for getting the formula badly wrong. Setting an all-star cast down an obstacle course of water and fire seems simple enough, but it proved trickier than the tv veteran imagined. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure was turned down by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and even Gene Hackman, who was asked to play the twin brother of his original character. These goofy ideas give some idea of a troubled conceptual process, but Allen’s film still has plenty of daftness on show.
What made the original film so striking was the upside-down nature; with the SS Poseidon overturned, all the sets were inverted, leaving the cast to scramble up to door frames, or climbing up Christmas trees to reach the floor. This sequel is cheaper, and aside from a shoot-out in a garage full of cars hung from chains, there’s less of the eye-boggling design that made the first film so distinctive. Instead, Michael Caine and Telly Savalas lead two salvage crews through the hull of the liner and into the bowels of the ship, where the find a motely collection of B movie stars who somehow got left out of Hackman’s posse. These include Jack Warden as a blind man firmly characterised by his blindness, Slim Pickens as a drunk firmly characterised by his drinking, Peter Boyle as a grieving father firmly characterised by his grief, and tv staples Veronica Hamel and Mark Harmon. Caine’s crew also include a hammy Karl Malden and Sally Field, who turns on the comedy tap and floods the film with lame music-hall gags. ‘I came to France a year and a half ago with my boyfriend from Cincinnati.’ ‘Where’s your boyfriend now?’ says Caine. ‘Cincinnati!’ says Field. It’s dialogue like this which provides the thin gruel of entertainment as old-footage from the first film is reused and a lame battle between the salvage crews breaks out.
‘If we ever get out of here alive, I’m going to kill you!’. shouts a character in this tame disaster movie; if you love clichés, you’ve come to the right place. While never reaching the dramatic heights of the cheesey original, there is at least passing interest here as to how not to make a sequel. Every cast member is a step in the wrong direction, every evocation of the original is a mark-down; it would be a strange world where this was a popular movie since it’s unrelentingly drab. And yet, it’s passable fare by dint of the game cast, ready to dive underwater at the drop of a gas canister, and presumably eyeing the pay-check rather than looking for posterity.