Picks and Pans Review: Down Periscope

updated 03/18/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/18/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

Kelsey Grammer, Lauren Holly, Rob Schneider, Bruce Dern, Rip Torn

For a dumb movie that relies heavily on a joke involving Navy officer Grammer's tattooed penis and drags out a flatulence gag for 5 minutes, this submarine comedy manages to seem good-natured, amusing and even heartwarming. That its smarmy innocence is reminiscent of the Police Academy films is no coincidence; the director and cowriter of the first film in that series, Hugh Wilson, was cowriter here.

Grammer, less pompous than as his TV persona, plays an inept officer who is finally given his own ship. But to his dismay it's a rusty World War II relic—part of a war-games exercise administered by admirals Dern and Torn. The confrontations between these two old professional crazies are like the main bake-off at a ham festival.

Grammer is also handed a crew of buffoons. There's Schneider as the officious executive officer, Harry Dean Stanton as the engineer and Harland Williams, the Huntz Hall-like doofus from TV's Simon, as a sonar man with supernaturally acute hearing. Holly, flaunting a mean comic take, joins in as part of Torn's experiment to assign women officers to submarines.

Too bad the chance for a sly parody of Crimson Tide, implicit in the Grammer-Schneider disputes, is never developed. And the finale to the war games is woefully predictable. But no harm done. Nobody ever accused Police Academy et al of being intellectually satisfying either. (PG-13)

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