What is it exactly that draws people to disaster films? Is it simply an excuse to showcase really cool special effects sequences, or do we somehow gain inspiration from watching everyday heroes face impending death through courageous efforts to survive? It seems odd for us as a culture to be wary of a remarkably well-made piece of history like United 93 because it's "too soon" after the 9/11 attacks that inspired it, yet look forward to a fictional movie like Poseidon, in which audiences anticipate the realistic looking sequence where hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent lives are killed in spectacular ways.
Your opinion of disaster flicks will determine your enjoyment of this one, a fairly by-the-numbers effort based on the book The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico, as well as the classic 1972 film of the same name. The story is essentially the same, though all the characters have been changed to presumably modernize the setting and pacing.
It's New Year's Eve, and hundreds of passengers are celebrating aboard the titular luxury cruise ship in the North Atlantic. Unlike the original, there's absolutely no warning of the 150-foot "rogue wave" that strikes the ship shortly after midnight—if nothing else, waves are timely and dramatic. The Poseidon is capsized, causing most of the passengers to fall from floor to ceiling. Those not killed or injured by the impact are generally crushed by other falling objects, electrocuted, burned from a flash fire, or else drowned, and Poseidon spares little expense in depicting the horrific tragedy with impressive detail and effects.
But some do survive—initially—through the protection of the expansive ballroom. And though the Captain (Andre Braugher) insists everyone stay in the safety of the "air bubble" until help arrives, Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) figures his odds are better by heading to the top, er, bottom of the ship. He's quickly joined by precocious nine-year-old Conor James (Jimmy Bennett) and his single mom Maggie (Jacinda Barrett), as well as Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), a concerned father searching for his young daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) and her fiancé Christian (Mike Vogel). Also tagging along are depressed gay architect Richard Nelson (an aging Richard Dreyfus), pretty stowaway Elena Gonzalez (Mia Maestro), young attendant Marco Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez), and some sleazy jerk named Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon).
Now that you're properly introduced, it goes without saying that not all of these intrepid characters will survive their journey off the Poseidon. With a ridiculously shallow character like Lucky Larry, you half expect a meteorite to fall out of the sky and kill him early on—and that's actually not far from the truth. But what about the rest? "There's nothing fair about who lives and dies," says the elder Ramsey, but they do the best they can, pursued by rising water levels as they make their way through the death traps of the wreckage to try to find their way to safety.