Down Periscope (1996) – A Review

Kelsey Grammer Lauren Holly Down Periscope
Kelsey Grammer and Lauren Holly in Down Periscope

Lt. Cmdr Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer) is expecting a sweet assignment. Instead Vice Admiral Winslow (Rip Torn) informs him he’ll be taking command of the rusted diesel-fueled WWII sub U.S.S. Stingray. He will participate in a unique wargame to test the defenses of the Navy’s newest nuclear sub which will be commanded by Dodge’s former CO (William Macy).

Rear Admiral Graham (Bruce Dern) who has an intense dislike for Dodge makes sure to make things even more difficult for him by arranging that his crew is made up of the most notorious outcasts in the navy.

With the deck stacked up against him can Dodge turn his fortunes around, get his crew of screw-ups to work together and prove that all the most hi-tech hardware means nothing against an outside-the-box thinking commander?

Grammer is and always will be best known as Frasier Crane. Frasier is an intelligent character and something of a sophisticate and Grammer mined him for every ounce of laughs possible for an extraordinarily long time.

Which makes his choice of playing Tom Dodge so surprising. The characters are nothing alike and it seems something like a step down from the work he had been doing on television for so long.

Kelsey Grammer Rob Schneider Down Periscope

Perhaps that’s why he decided to play this part, simply because the character was so different. It must of seemed like a novelty to get a chance to play a guy who’s notorious for having a tattoo on his penis.

But Dodge isn’t as much of a screwup and is more capable than I would have thought based on this premise. He also is much more the straight character surrounded by this misfit crew. So Grammer doesn’t have much to play.

I would have loved if he got to do more dry sarcasm, which Grammer is very funny with. He doesn’t even get to do exhaustive annoyance in this flick.

Surprisingly Grammer isn’t bad with what he has, which really isn’t all that much. Plus, the shadow of Frasier just disappears and never hangs over him during this infantile exercise.

He somehow avoids being cornered in by a character he has played for twenty years when he’s done other roles and it doesn’t become a ball and chain he has to carry around. I’m not sure why that is, but I never think of Frasier when I see him in other projects.

As for the movie itself, it’s basically ‘Police Academy’ at sea with an extremely simple predictable story that’s meant to have the laughs take center stage. There’s the pack of outcasts who have to work together to get the job done and hilarity commences.

Many of the characters in Down Periscope seem to be descendants of the Police Academy characters. Fans should easily be able to see the similarities. The zany, accident-prone electronics man, the sound effect sonar man, the disgruntled recruit trying to get kicked out, the angry officer, the hot babe, the evil commander who’s trying his darndest to sabotage this motley crew.

Lauren Holly hot sexy cleavage boobs Down Periscope
Lauren Holly spilling out of her uniform!

I’d have to stretch and say the fat sloppy cook is like Schtulman from Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. But all they needed was a soft-spoken, non-threatening looking little lady and a cameo by Bubba Smith and Down Periscope could have been an official spinoff from the Police Academy series!

The humor is mainly silly sightgags, pratfalls and goofy antics by the crew. There’s nothing special about any of it. Rob Schneider hits his face into a ladder, guy falls into a vat of oil, electrician gets shocked – it’s all that kind of stuff and none of it is particularly funny.

I was sitting stonefaced watching it all. I finally perked up for the one scene of Lauren Holly wearing a shrunken uniform with her cleavage prominently displayed. I had completely forgot about that bit. She does look good in this – in that scene in particular.

I don’t think I have much more to say about this. Well, Harry Dean Stanton is kind of amusing in a brief, very small role as the whiskey-swilling engineer. Grammer looks game to be in a wacky comedy, but his crew are the ones who try to get most of the laughs and that consistently falls overboard. Oh and of course Lauren Holly’s cleavage. There’s nothing more that stands out from this movie.

It could have been a fun idea updating the navy-set comedies from the past like Operation Petticoat and Mister Roberts, but Down Periscope relies on so much silly slapstick and cartoon-y characters I found it to be more juvenile than funny. The trailer for this movie is a perfect description of what you’re going to get from it.


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3 Responses

  1. Capt. Nemo says:

    Ah, a submarine flick. Now you're talking…

    If there is one word I would describe this film, it would be "safe." It never really reaches for anything new or interesting. They don't go for raunchy or even bombastic. It's obvious they were making a little throwaway film with some inoffensive characters that someone could take their kid to.

    You might be right that Kelsey was trying to get away from Fraiser at this point. He's go on to play more heavy roles. I think the next one had him as a sleazy tabloid reporter in a movie with Robert De Niro. Good move in my humble opinion.

    And get this, I think this movie was Rob Schneider's least annoying movie role to date. And he's the most annoying one in the picture. I think we are supposed to laugh when he gets to be the butt of a few jokes. But those jokes don't seem very inspired. Much like Schneider himself. Adam Sandler really created a monster with that one.

    I don't know what to say about Lauren Holly. I hate to say it but she was at the peak of her stardom here. And THAT was only because she was the main squeeze of Jim Carrey at the time. Unfortunately, that pretty much linked their two fates. When Jim faded, so did she. Last time I saw her she was playing a "Devil wears Prada" type in a movie where she was being kidnapped by human traffickers. Not a bad low budget thriller by the way. Here I guess that scene Stuff mentioned and to be the love interest was all she was needed for. And she played her part well.

    As submarine movies go, it's inoffensive as well. This is definitely not Das Boot were the interesting crew is bored out of their skulls with tedium being punctuated by moments of terror. Its a bunch of comedic set pieces on a submarine. I didn't think of it before. But the Police Academy comparison is very apt. I guess the reason I didn't of it is because the movie is so toned down. You won't find a Blue Ouster bar scene here (the song with the Village People not withstanding).

    Good review.

  2. CKulik says:

    I served in the U.S. Navy for 8 years. This is dumb, inoffensive and personally I didn't find it funny…and I used to be an electrician, never found the electrician funny. If you want to see the greatest movie about the U.S. Navy ever, then look no further than the 1973 comedy-drama THE LAST DETAIL, with Jack Nicholson as a drunken 1st class petty officer who is forced to do a shit detail, transferring a kleptomaniac seaman (Randy Quaid) to a Marine Corps brig for 8 years. Nicholson and his partner decide to show him a "last good time" by getting drunk on the steps of the Capital and even going to an NYC cathouse. Then again, you can't make a Navy movie anymore where a 1st class petty officer in full dress blues smoke a joint in front of a super-hot Nancy Allen loving the uniform, and Nicholson just says, "Yeah…You know the best thing about this uniform…is how it makes your dick look!" 🙂

  3. CKulik says:

    By the way, uh….Hugh Wilson, who co-wrote and directed the first POLICE ACADEMY? Uh, he's given "story" credit and a screenwriting credit for DOWN PERISCOPE. Just sayin'.

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