Floundering in Shallow Water
I am really not sure about "Down Periscope", is it a movie which is trying to pay homage to those comedies of the 50s and 60s which featured misfit sailors aboard a wacky vessel or whether it is just trying to be a spoof movie. In truth it doesn't work brilliantly as either as it lacks the sharpness to be as good as the likes of "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" but lacks the torrent of humour to be a spoof movie. It makes "Down Periscope" a movie of sporadic amusement, some nice set pieces but often flounders in between.
Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer - Fame) has been passed over twice before for a command and if Right Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern - The 'burbs) has his way will be passed over again because of one drunken night Tom got his genitals tattooed. But Vice Adm. Dean Winslow (Rip Torn) decides to give Tom a chance and puts him in command of an ancient and rusty diesel sub with a crew of misfits and a woman. Their mission is to participate in a war game, avoid being caught by the Navy's nuclear subs and if they succeed Tom will get command of a modern submarine.
Thinking too hard about "Down Periscope" is a mistake because all this is is a simple comedy, a familiar one at that featuring a bunch of Navy misfits on a rust bucket outsmarting the elitist Wimslow and the latest high tech submarines. That means along the way we get the usual comedy of doing the submarine up to make it sea worthy as well as humour aboard from a flatulent cook to the over eager XO. It's okay and probably quite amusing if you haven't watched the similar comedies of the 50s and 60s but if you have it feels inferior in comparison and that comes from sharpness because everything about "Down Periscope" is laid back.
What this means is that a lot of the time "Down Periscope" feels like it is treading water till the next big set piece gag comes along and it is these gags which thankfully pep it up. A rendition of "Louie Louie" and the sonar operator mimicking whale noises all in an attempt to avoid detection are memorably fun but sadly there are just too few of these big moments. The annoying thing is that from start to finish several opportunities for big gags present themselves but far too often the opportunity is ignored.
As for the acting well to be honest Kelsey Grammer as Tom Dodge is the best thing about the movie and his laid back style of command is fun yet at the same time it also feels wrong and lacked the sharpness this sort of movie needed. It is the same through out and the likes of Bruce Dern, Lauren Holly and Rip Torn all seem to be in laid back mode which sadly means those scenes between the big gags tend to flounder. What the movie needed was some sort of comical scrounger character similar to one which Jack Lemmon once played, full of nervous energy as without that character it feels incomplete.
What this all boils to is that "Down Periscope" is amusing but never really achieving the consistent big laughs to make it memorable. If you have watched the similar comedies of the 50s and 60s it will feel lack lustre but for those new to military comedies it remains fun.