The Final Countdown (Don Taylor, 1980)
One of the only reasons anyone remembers that this movie exists is the ridiculous hair-metal song Europe wrote (very) loosely based on it five years later. (And now you will have that keyboard line in your head the rest of the day. You’re welcome.) The film is just as ridiculous as the song, but I can’t deny it’s a guilty pleasure, one of the things you keep around to watch when nothing else sounds good and you’re in the mood for something familiar where you can simply turn your brain off. Few movies fit the bill as well as The Final Countdown. And now, with that cheesy keyboard riff playing in your head…
Plot: A state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, bankrolled by a mysterious millionaire named Tideman, is out for its initial maneuvers when it runs into a storm unlike anything any of its seasoned crew have ever seen. The new boat weathers it well enough, but when they emerge, they find themselves nowhere near where they started—in fact, they are afloat off Pearl Harbor in the early days of December, 1941. The boat’s captain, Matthew Yelland (the mighty Kirk Douglas), and his crew have the opportunity to change the course of history with, as it were, insider information. While no one landside is quite sure what to make of this massive structure, things on the boat reach a tipping point when the boys capture themselves a Japanese recon pilot, Simura (Mulan‘s Soon-tek Oh). With some of the crew arguing to intercept the coming force, some arguing against it, and a few dropping hints that they should make it look as if the information came naturally from the interrogation of Simura, things are bound to come to a head—and sooner rather than later.
What amazes me about cheesy movies like this is the incredible starpower they were capable of attracting in the pre-DTV days. Kirk Douglas is just the tip of this particular iceberg; Martin Sheen plays his second in command; others on the boat are played by Katharine Ross, James Farentino, Lloyd Kaufman (in his final role before founding Troma), and Ron O’Neal, all towards the top of the seventies B-list, while Charles Durning plays a Senator who’s out for a cruise while the action is taking place. That’s a lot of talent on one screen, and all of it put to…this. The talent therein is what saves it from mediocrity and makes it the watchable artifact of the unbearably cheesy theatrical releases that it is. Still, if you have a low tolerance for scripts that lay it on thick, you might want to avoid this one. I guess there’s no one to blame, but you’re still leaving ground. ***