The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, July 29, 1995                TAG: 9507280059
TYPE: Movie Review 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   96 lines


``WATERWORLD,'' A film that has achieved significant notoriety because of its production problems, has finally arrived. It is neither as bad as might have been prophesized, but nor is it anything special.

The action scenes are great, but there is practically no humor and little or no emotional involvement. For the most part, it's a lot of noise and money, signifying little.

In the action category, it contains several outstanding moments - the attack of a horde of pirates on jet skis upon a floating city and a major explosion. While well-filmed, these are hardly more than state-of-the-art stunt work.

Still, we have been told over and over, it is the most expensive movie ever made (at a total cost of between $175 and $200 million). It does give a lot of bang for the buck.

If anything, ``Waterworld'' is almost too fast-paced. There are hints that the editing ran amok in an all-out effort to reduce the running time to the present two hours. We never get a really complete look at that fabled set, the floating junk-city that has gotten more publicity than the actors themselves.

The entrance of star Kevin Costner's trimaran through the gates of the city could have been spectacular, in the vein of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome - for this price, it should have. Instead, it's a quick shot. There are times we wish the actors would get out of the way so we could see the set.

The plot is ultra-simple. People now live on floating cities made of salvaged junk. In the opening scene, Costner, as a surly ``hero'' known only as the Mariner, is seen drinking his own recycled urine. It's not exactly a jolly-popcorn opener.

Soon, he floats into the city in order to trade some dirt (``pure dirt'' is more valuable than gold with this water-logged lot). He's offered a deal, if he'll impregnate one of the local girls. He rejects the idea and is rejected himself when it's discovered he's a mutant. He has gills behind the ears and webbed feet, which allow him to have a speedy, extended life underwater. He's about to be recycled in a vat of goo when the pirates attack.

Jeanne Tripplehorn (who starred with Tom Cruise in ``The Firm'') has the pretty-but-bland role of Helen, who saves the Mariner in return for passage out of the city. Tagging along is her 10-year-old adopted daughter, Enola, who has a map to the mythical place known as Dryland tattooed on her back.

The girl is sought by bad-guy Dennis Hopper, who follows the trio. His flock, known as the Smokers because they use what oil is left to power their craft, live to kill.

The child is captured, which necessitates a rescue. And so it goes.

Costner still has an All-American naive honesty, which worked well with movies like ``Dances With Wolves'' and ``Field of Dreams'' but soured in ``Robin Hood.'' Here, his role is surly and unlikable but less embarrassing, perhaps because he has hardly anything to say. He frowns most of the time. He throws the kid overboard and whacks the leading lady over the head with an oar.

Little Tina Majorino almost steals the film as a child who trusts and adores the Mariner. (So good in ``When a Man Loves a Woman,'' she narrowly won the part over Oscar-winner Anna Paquin.)

Hopper does only what he's done so often before, rave and rant a bit as the villain. He is outhammed, though, by lean Michael Jeter (from TV's ``Evening Shade'') as a kind of mad inventor. Tripplehorn is pretty and appealing, but trapped within the confines of her role, which never evolves into a romantic lead.

Kevin Reynolds has directed in a workmanlike, fast-forward motion. He and star Costner had yet another falling out over the editing. (The same thing happened when they made the ill-fated ``Robin Hood.'' Reynolds quit both films, claiming that Costner interfered and didn't allow him the final cut.) James Newton Howard's music score is all bombast. Actually, it's appropriate.

More touches of humor would have helped. In Schwarzenegger's flicks, you can at least excuse some of the excesses because he laughs at himself. Costner asks us to take it all with deadly seriousness, which, for a summer escapist movie, can be deadly.

Someone, with apparently nothing else to do, figured out that this movie cost about $1.3 million per minute. As such, one might question the wisdom of spending that kind of money to recreate a world of rusted junk. The ``Mad Max on Water'' label is just about accurate - although this is a humorless ``Mad Max.'' Nonetheless, credit must be given in that it does, effectively, create another world.

The action scenes float, but the rest is choppy. ILLUSTRATION: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina

Majorino, Michael Jeter

nudity, language, violence)

Mal's rating: **1/2

Locations: Chesapeake Square, Greenbrier in Chesapeake, Main

Gate, Military Circle in Norfolk, Lynnhaven, R/C Columbus,

Surf-N-Sand in Virginia Beach

by CNB