From asteroids to aliens, most summer movies typically rely on trends. This year's bunch appears to be no exception, with the theme of peril on the open sea popping up in several spring/summer releases, such as "The Perfect Storm" and the Easter-weekend offering "U-571."
Loosely based on an actual undersea mission performed by the British during World War II, "U-571" flips the events to make the Americans the heroes of the action-packed story. (The change has angered some folks in the U.K., and rightly so.) In this version, it's the Yanks who take over a Nazi submarine in order to heist the infamous German decoding device, the Enigma.
When a Nazi sub is seriously damaged at sea, a Navy crew led by Capt. Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) and Marine Major Coonan (David Keith) sets out to locate and storm the stranded vessel. Once the ship is found (and relatively easily, I might add), the crew masquerades as Nazis to take charge and the adventure revs up to full throttle.
Unlike the classic "Das Boot" (which was directed, incidentally, by Wolfgang Petersen, who is the force behind "The Perfect Storm"), the only real depth to "U-571" is the 200 meters the sub eventually plunges. A rather contrived exposition on shore sets up the crew's dynamics. Lt. Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) has just been passed over for the chance to captain his own ship. It doesn't take much to figure out that Capt. Dahlgren will probably soon be shark food and Lt. Tyler will lead the boys to victory. The same goes for predicting the inevitable fates of the "just married" soldier and the cocky insubordinate.
Jonathan Mostow ("Breakdown"), who both directed and penned the film, keeps the action and suspense flowing at a masterful pace. For the majority of the film, we're effectively perched on the edge of our seats. Unfortunately, the script's vast number of contrivances make it difficult for us to become truly swept away. Instead, we wonder how our heroes are able to learn to maneuver this foreign sub so quickly and easily, and why they appear to have more success with it (even after it is pummeled relentlessly) than the Germans did. The film's flag-waving patriotism is truly manipulative, particularly when one considers that the flag that should really be waving is the Union Jack.
In his first film since his naked run-in with the law, McConaughey makes an impressive action figure, but the true star of the film is the seacraft itself. If you can allow yourself to overlook the movie's glaring implausibilities, this "U-571" is capable of taking you on quite a ride.