So many men, so little room. Clearly a formula for success. And that's exactly what it is.
You probably know the story from your high school history class. America's victory in World War II is largely credited to the allied forces deciphering Germany's secret code. "U-571" brings a small portion of that story to the screen. A ragtag crew of American submariners is assigned to a secret mission to impersonate a German rescue team, intercept the disabled U-571 and steal the Enigma, a portable encryption device onboard. The story is somewhat true and the Hollywood script is mostly predictable. Inexperienced crew, overeager captain, unreliable ship, bad Germans ... you get the picture.
Surprisingly, the regulation buzz cut and the dress whites do nothing for Matthew McConaughey as Lt. Andrew Tyler, so you have no distraction from his made-for-TV performance. But even with soap opera-esque, over-the-shoulder close-ups, his acting floats well above the rest of the crew. Movie veterans Bill Paxton as Lt. Cmdr. Mike Dahlgren and Harvey Keitel, as the older, wiser chief petty officer, are clearly just reading for a paycheck, and the various array of hunks du jour, including the actor-formerly-known-as-musician Jon Bon Jovi, make their most memorable impression during the shirtless bunk-bed scene. On the plus side, at no point during the movie did Keitel remove his clothes.
It's really hard to go wrong with a submarine war movie. The sweaty, young men in amber lighting, the shots of oncoming destroyers through the periscope, the underwater explosions of random depth charges -- you could set the scenes to a Disney soundtrack, and you'll still tense up when the sirens are sounded and the torpedoes are released. Writer-director Jonathan Mostow clearly created an energetic war flick. If only he left the writing to someone else. It lacks the gritty reality and dramatic story development of "Das Boot" or the exciting plot twists of "The Hunt for Red October." There are no surprises in "U-571," including the brave crewmember who risks his life by swimming under water through a maze of debris to save the crew. Can somebody say Shelley Winters in "The Poseidon Adventure"?
Sort of a period "Star Trek" episode under water, I wouldn't have been surprised if a Scottish voice cried out from the engine room, "I'm giving you all she's got, Captain."