(PG-13) 2 stars
A few words about movie disclaimers: When a film says, "This is a true story," that means "We pretty much stuck to the facts." "Based on a true story" means "We omitted some significant information and changed a lot of things, but the spirit of the true story is still there." Finally, "Inspired by a true story" means "True story? What true story? Yee-hah, we changed around so much shit that we can barely remember the true story! Hells bells, even though we altered the names, we"ll still be lucky if the relatives don"t sue." K-19: The Widowmaker is "inspired by a true story."
Some of the men portrayed in the thriller about a disaster onboard a Soviet nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War are complaining that the producers presented them "as a bunch of alcoholics and illiterates." Yury Mukhin, a former lieutenant-commander aboard the sub, told the press that the film "was nothing like the reality." Veterans of the incident were particularly upset at scenes showing the men drinking vodka, which is banned on submarines, and reading an instruction manual when an alarm sounds. "This was the Soviet Union"s first nuclear submarine," Mukhin stated, "and the crew consisted of professionals of the highest quality."
The men shouldn"t worry too much about their reputations, as not all that many people are likely to see the movie. Between the remarkably uninviting title (K-19: The Widowmaker: Mountain climber epic or another of those damn flicks with Jim Belushi and a police dog?) and the dour handling of the story, the film virtually screams, "Rent The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide instead!"
Given the performances of Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, a better title might be Grim and Grimmer.
Those who do see the film will witness a serviceable, but unexceptional, submarine tale that never quite manages to capture the horror of the situation. These men were trapped on a nuclear sub with a leaky reactor cooling system, forced to choose between radiation poisoning and an explosion that could set off World War III. So what does the film give us? Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson butting heads, while the men choose up sides.