CATEGORIES Features, Columns
When I first heard that a movie named 'Titanic II' existed, I approached the film much the same way I imagine one would view an actual ship with the same name – with trepidation, uncertainty, fear and, most of all, bemusement. How could this possibly exist? Does Jack's lifeless corpse suddenly spring to life after some miraculous rescue, only to sail off with Rose on another Celine Dion-soundtracked adventure? Did Billy Zane not utilize all of his smug faces in the first film? Did James Cameron come up with a better catchphrase to rehash at the Oscars than "I'm the king of the world"?

'Titanic II' is not, in fact, a "sequel" to Cameron's bloated blockbuster, but the work of The Asylum, a Los Angeles-based studio that churns out low-budget, straight-to-DVD, effects-heavy films that are either clever homages or blatant knockoffs of Hollywood blockbusters (depending on your point of view). In a recent feature, Wired described the studio's catalog as "uniformly dreadful films, notable mainly for their stilted dialogue, flimsy-looking sets (which are frequently recycled), and turns by faded stars such as Judd Nelson and C. Thomas Howell ... But in general, the Asylum's films aren't ironic or campy, and they're certainly not parodies. They are actually unnervingly earnest (at least as earnest as a giant-crocodile movie can be) and shrewdly designed to satisfy the predictable cravings of the video rental market."

To put the studio's work into perspective, the trailers for the 'Titanic II' DVD include 'Airline Disaster' with Meredith Baxter (aka the mom on 'Family Ties') as the President of the United States; 'Mega Piranha,' starring teen pop tart-turned-middle-aged actress Tiffany and Barry Williams (aka Greg from 'The Brady Bunch'); and '#1 Cheerleader Camp' -- my personal favorite -- a sort of 'Bring It On' meets 'Porky's' teen sex comedy that's so ludicrous as to be hysterical. It's arguably also Asylum's best teen sex comedy, at least until 'MILF' comes out next month. Seriously.

Watching these previews, you quickly realize that the people behind Asylum productions aren't trying to make the next 'Citizen Kane,' but they also don't care (a recent blog post on their website compiling various reviews was entitled "Love Us or Hate Us, They Can't Get Enough!").

The calm before the storm

So let's get some disclosures out of the way early:

1. I'm not a big fan of disaster films. 'The Towering Inferno' and 'The Poseidon Adventure' had their moments; but minus the special effects, it's inherently hard to develop any sense of plot or character development when the raison d'etre for most of these films is to see, to put it simply, sh** blowing up. In a genre that involves many people frantically yelling, running around and praying for survival, there's only so many places you can go.

2. I hated 'Titanic.' James Cameron's $200 million bloat was a three-hour movie that should've been condensed to a 30-minute special effects reel. Sorry, fans. When 'Titanic' was released in 1997, it also prompted a million "don't tell me how it ends" jokes from the maw of every bad amateur comedian at water coolers around the country, so there's another check in the "Con" column.

Back to 'Titanic II.' It's 2012, 100 years after the original ship's maiden voyage, and a new vessel dubbed Titanic II is preparing its initial launch. In a marketing scheme sure to be taught in future colleges the world over, Hayden (Shane Van Dyke, Dick's grandson and 'Titanic II' director), the brains and money behind the ship, has labeled his vessel after one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Why? Because today is a day upon which "a nod to the future triumphed over defeats of the past." Hayden's ex-girlfriend is Amy (Marie Westbrook), a nurse on Titanic II still unsure of her feelings for the precocious magnate, but sure that no matter what happens, nothing will be as as weird as acting in a movie where the dad from 'Family Ties' is a Navy SEAL. (In what is easily the most pointless piece of trivia you'll ever learn, the captain of the ship, D.C. Douglas, is also the GEICO car insurance voiceover guy. The more you know.)

Meanwhile, Amy's dad, Coast Guard Commander James Maine (Bruce Davison, who starred in the 2009 Asylum disaster flick 'Megafault') gets summoned to Greenland by former 'Baywatch' star Brooke Burns to learn that massive glaciers are collapsing and falling into the ocean, causing an 800 mph tsunami that can be felt "across the Atlantic." You can see where this is going.


With a wink-wink, the screenwriters pepper their script with numerous clues concerning the ship's fate, for those who thought this might be the film in which the boat gingerly, and without incident, travels around the Caribbean before ending up in Turks and Caicos in time for the limbo tournament. To wit, my top five lines:

1. Amy: Did the ship pass inspection?
James: Barely.
2. First Mate: Ironic, huh? Same reading as 100 years ago.
3. First Mate: I need to remind you, sir. We haven't fully stretched her legs yet.
4. Captain: Think we're gonna avoid that ice field as well?
5. Nurse: Did you know the original Titanic was warned about ice six times and did nothing?

By the time the Coast Guard is able to radio Titanic II for help, the ship has 15 minutes to brace for impact. Hayden, ever the nautical mind, counters James's argument that the ship will go down with "Can I remind you this is Titanic II?" as if that is somehow more assuring. After the wave hits and one of the crew members radios "Mayday, this is the Titanic II. Require immediate assistance," you know someone on the other end of the line checked the "Titanic II Time of Crash Board" to see who won the bet.

The remainder of the film involves Hayden and Amy running around the ship trying to find a way out, interspersed with Bruce Davison saying things like, "What are you telling me?" and "What are you trying to say?" to bring the audience up to speed.*

*To his credit, Davison is a veteran actor who was nominated for an Oscar for 'Longtime Companion,' but will always be Mr. Ross, the creepy teacher from the based-on-true-events 1981 afterschool special 'The Wave.' My memories are admittedly fuzzy, but Davison is a teacher unable to convey how many Germans ignored or disregarded what was going on in Germany in the late 1930s. He decided to conduct an experiment by enforcing rigid, disciplinary rules on his class and teaching them that they were superior to others. This inevitably leads to students in other classes getting beaten up and Davison's group taking on cult-like tendencies. Eventually, Davison lies to them and says their group is part of a national movement whose leader will be speaking to them tomorrow in the auditorium. When the students arrive, they see a giant image of Hitler projected on a screen. Davison yells. A girl cries. The end. I wonder if the 'Titanic II' crew made any "wave" jokes. But I digress.

"Looks like history's repeating itself."

As our protagonists encounter sealed doors, locked elevator shafts and live wires, the film starts to feel more like a video game than anything resembling a movie. I'm sure even the guys at The Asylum would concede that the sets look cheap and the acting stiff, but to criticize that is to miss the point. What 'Titanic II' lacks in budget and CGI, it makes up for in ridiculous escapism.

In contrast to our last entry, in which Matthew McConaughey is hiding the fact that his whole family are dwarves and Kate Beckinsale goes to -- actually, it's not even worth repeating that plot -- 'Titanic II' doesn't take itself seriously and injects all facets of the film with a winking glance. Its budget may be a fraction of the size as the second highest grossing film of all time, but, to quote Hayden -- upon hearing one of his skanky arm candies call the ship "big" -- "Airplanes are big, babe. Trains are big. This? This is monumental."