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KIDS ON FILM

Yecchhh-Hmmm Factor Helps Keep 'Waterworld' Afloat

August 03, 1995|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for the Times' Life & Style section.

In "Waterworld," the polar icecaps have long since melted, and civilization has devolved into two seagoing bands--the evil Smokers and the benign Atollers--who battle over possession of a living map to Dryland. (Rated PG-13)

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The early, grown-up buzz on the world's most costly movie was thumbs down, so most kids were surprised to find this water-based action flick fun and exciting.

Not only were there seagoing versions of the standard fireballs, high-speed chases, big weapons and gory mortal combat for kids who like those things, but there were also intriguing sets and special effects that let them imagine how people might actually survive in the future in a landless world.

There were also plenty of things to make them go "yecchhh" and "hmmmmmm."

To start with, the Smokers, led by the ruthless Deacon (Dennis Hopper), launched an attack on the inhabitants of an atoll made from rusted scraps of civilization. (Deacon has one eye gouged out during the attack. Yecchhh.) A pretty young woman, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), escaped with her adopted daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) to the trimaran of a lone trader known only as the Mariner (Kevin Costner). (A man with gills and webbed feet. Hmmmmmm. Who recycled his own urine as drinking water. Yecchhh.)

As soon as the Smokers realized Enola had the map to Dryland tattooed on her back, the chase was on. The Smokers had fuel and jet skis, but the Mariner had sea smarts and a customized sailing ship.

Brian Kadar, 10, liked the trimaran's high-tech doodads.

"I liked how [the Mariner] just pressed a button and it turned into a big sail," he said. But he didn't like the violence. "I hate when they throw knives and kill people," he said.

On the other hand, his friend Brian Kuwabara, 10, liked the battle scenes the best. But he could do without the love scenes.

At first, Helen thought the Mariner was a cold fish, but as it turned out he just wasn't sure she was truly committed. (Some nudity, kissing and rolling in the rust. Yecchhh or hmmmmmm, depending on point of view.)

"The best parts were the big war and when he rescued the girl," Brian Kuwabara said.

While Helen and the Mariner were underwater exploring a submerged city, the Smokers captured Enola. In the final battle scene, the Mariner attempted an against-the-odds rescue of Enola aboard the Smokers' oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez.

Five-year-old Danielle Reppen liked the scenes with the feisty, talkative Enola, who turned the rough Mariner into a kindly father figure and swim teacher. She remembered the actress from another of her favorite films, "Andre." Even so, she became bored after the first 90 minutes, of the two-hour, 15-minute show, said her father, Mike.

Some children were unsettled by the fact that the movie never explained how, or when, the polar icecaps melted. (The film also never mentions in what year the action takes place.) And some wondered why, with all that water around, the people were always dirty.

But Brian Kuwabara said that when it was over and the survivors had found Dryland, his biggest question was whether there would be a sequel.

Sorry, Brian. Considering the rumored $170-million-to-$200-million cost to make this film, chances are slim it would happen any time before the polar icecaps melt.

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