K-19: The Widowmaker

By Mark Ramsey | 2002/07/20

What’ll it be this weekend? Eight Legged Freaks where David Arquette sprouts six more legs, or K-19: The Widowmaker where Harrison Ford sprouts only about six hairs?

I’ll take K-19: The Widowmaker - and not because it sounds like a batch of Mentos: The Freshmaker gone horribly wrong.

K-19 is set during a time when the Soviet Union had enough nukes to destroy the world two times over, and the U.S. had enough to destroy it ten times over. Still, neither superpower had as many bombs as Penelope Cruz.


Indiana Jones is now Leningrad Jones. Don’t miss Harrison Ford’s supremely unconvincing Russian accent. Where’s his dialogue coach from, Soviet Transylvania? “You vill submerge or I vill suck your blood!” coos Count Harrison before he transforms into the Soviet Navy’s first commissioned bat.

It’s bad luck when the champagne bottle used to christen a submarine fails to break on impact. It’s worse luck when the bottle accidentally shatters the sub’s bow and candy showers out like it’s a submersible piñata.

Although its fresh off the assembly line, this sub is a ramshackle, leaky mess! First, that old bucket of bolts the Millennium Falcon, Harrison, now this! Hey Ford, quality is not job one!

K-19 may not be the Soviet Union’s finest technical achievement, but where else can you find a sub launching Stoli out of the forward torpedo tubes? Let’s hope the targets are 21 and over!

The trouble begins early on, when a sailor tells Captain Ford he needs to go to the bathroom, and Harrison answers: “I told you to do that before ve left za Motherland!”

To you submariners out there, here’s my advice: When you head out to sea, never tell your buddies you’re writing a letter to your girlfriend in case you die. Fate will not be kind to any fool who foreshadows thus.

Captain Harrison has to answer to the head mucky-mucks of the Russian Navy. We know that’s who they are because they’re the same character actors who play Russian mucky-mucks in every movie where Russian mucky-mucks figure prominently.

This movie is the reason why I hate flying when the overhead light doesn’t work. If that‘s out of whack, what else is? Well in this case, it’s the nuclear reactor, that’s what! The reactor springs a leak, and the nuclear core gets so hot K-19 risks becoming The Meltdownmaker.

k19_funnyhat.jpgThese are the days when folks weren’t so wise about the perils of radiation. Men are sent in to cool down the overheating reactor core, but blowing on it fails to prove effective. Finally, the crew gives up on the blowing and tries welding. I haven’t seen this much welding in a movie since Flashdance. If you left Fast and the Furious wanting to race, you’ll leave K-19 wanting to weld.

In their infinite wisdom, the Moscow powers-that-be sent along chemical suits instead of radiation suits for the crew’s protection. Somebody’s taking the expression “shower of isotopes” too literally.

Naturally, the crew is subject to horrifying doses of radiation. On the negative side, folks die. On the positive side, who needs a night-light when the guy in the bunk next to yours is glowing green?

K-19 is brought to you in part by National Geographic Films. That explains the sub being manned by Jacques, Philippe, and the crew of the Calypso. Plus, sea turtles were scurrying across the floor of the theater. At least I hope those were sea turtles.

Celebrity-watchers know Harrison Ford has been romantically linked to Calista Flockhart like a paperclip to a sheet of parchment. Emaciated Calista is really the ideal movie star’s girlfriend: Even when she’s standing in your way, you can still admire your own reflection in a mirror.

Beware Harrison, if you see somebody carrying something out of the theater, it’s Liam Neeson, and he’s stealing the movie! Right on, Liam!

K-19 is chilling opus and a really good movie, even if it’s a little heavy on drills. Drills! There must be a dozen simulation drills in this movie, including a nuclear launch drill in the opening minutes reminiscent of 1983′s Wargames.

Nevertheless, you’ll grit your teeth when the sailors boldly go where no man would go again. And the underlying themes of duty and sacrifice for our comrades are messages timeless in their appeal and resonance.

K-19 is one Special K.

Photos Copyright ©2002 Paramount Pictures


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