In 1996’s Down Periscope, Kelsey Grammer stars as Lieutenant Commander Tom Dodge, a U.S. Navy submarine commander who is specifically chosen to lead a rag-tag crew in an impossible series of war games against a more decorated and power-hungry leader. Admiral Graham (Bruce Dern), has had it out for Dodge for some time due to his spotty track record on missions, and sticks him with a bunch of Navy rejects, which includes another superiors son who has a raging attitude problem, a college basketball choke artist, a driver with a gambling problem, an electrician who’s had more voltage pumped through him than a transformer, and a cook whose water is not exactly boiling. The fun doesn’t stop there, of course, as Dodge is also paired with an executive officer by the name of Marty Pascal (Rob Schneider), who himself has some quite acute anger management issues. Rounding out the cast of major characters is Lauren Holly as dive officer Emily Lake. She is sprung upon Dodge as a surprise by Graham, who is instituting a trial program that would enable women to work on submarines for the first time. As if that weren’t enough, the ship he is given to command is a recommissioned submarine from World War II that is falling apart at the seams, and is set to compete against a world-class nuclear sub in the games.
Dodge’s intelligence and cunning serve him well as he deals with changes in the rules of the exercise, issued by Graham once he realizes he is losing, an attempted mutiny by Pascal (after which he makes him “walk the plank”), a leak in a main pipe as the sub reaches crush depth in one scene, and keeping the rest of his crew from blowing his chance at redemption, and hopeful promotion. As entertaining as Grammer always was as Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers and Frasier, it was enjoyable to watch him in a looser comedic role, as his well-known character from those famed television shows was often stuffy and straight-laced. Rob Schneider is actually quite funny in this movie, as is usually the case when he’s in a supporting role (his small part in Grandma’s Boy was hilarious). William H. Macy also stars as a by-the-book sub commander, and his even demeanor is hard to believe if you’ve ever seen him on Showtime’s Shameless (if you haven’t, stop reading this and go now). One revelation in the film that ends up being really funny is the fact that after a near impact with another sub years back, Dodge got drunk, passed out, and woke up with a tattoo of the words “welcome aboard” on his penis. When his superior Admiral Winslow (Rip Torn) is explaining to him the ins and outs of the war game and he recoils, Winslow screams “Damn it to hell, don’t go by the book! Think like a pirate! I want a man with a tattoo on his dick! Have I got the right man?” Dodge, vaguely ashamed, replies “By a strange coincidence you do, sir”. Another riotous scene, that’s really only that funny to me because I have a frighteningly immature sense of humor, lies in a scene in which a few of the crew switch out Lake’s uniform with a much smaller size, showing off body parts in a way unbecoming of a Naval officer. When Dodge catches wind of the prank and tries to get to the bottom of it, a series of unintended double entendres follow that make me laugh out loud, every time I watch the movie.
If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted film about a scrappy team of misfits who are thrown together to battle a more seasoned enemy, check out Down Periscope today. Everybody loves a good underdog flick, and this one is just that, and is loaded with consistent laughs, to boot. Grammer is a delight as the sarcastic, too-smart-for-his-own-good Dodge, and Schneider plays the furious, ticking time bomb to perfection. The rest of the supporting cast comes together as one, all with their own strengths, quirks and personalities, to form a team that triumphs in the face of impossible odds.