DISNEY CHANNEL Film gives thoughtful perspective
'Tiger Cruise' is more sensitive to its topic than more 'mature' films.
By HAL BOEDEKER
For a family film, "Tiger Cruise" travels in unusually deep waters. It celebrates patriotism in stirring style. It gives a timely salute to military families. It earns tears honorably.
The Disney Channel movie, which premieres Friday, also pulls off an especially tricky assignment. It depicts the public's reaction to the terrorist attacks with sensitivity and power.
Director Duwayne Dunham and his colleagues work with admirable grace. They have crafted a lovely, thoughtful drama that shames many films that are supposedly more mature.
The movie's title refers to a weeklong cruise that acquaints sailors' relatives with ship life. Such a trip was under way, from Honolulu to San Diego, on the USS Constellation in September 2001. Even with hundreds of civilian passengers, the aircraft carrier went into full combat alert.
Beyond that, the movie is fiction about made-up people. But "Tiger Cruise" neither exploits nor diminishes the real catastrophe, which plays on TV screens in the background.
The central drama highlights problems that military families will understand. Teenager Maddie Dolan (Hayden Panettiere) hates the term "Navy brat." After frequent moves, she has tired of being the new kid in school. She longs for her father to be at home all the time.
Cmdr. Gary Dolan (Bill Pullman) worries about his unhappy daughter and his faraway family. But he sees the Navy as his way of life and yearns for promotion. Then Sept. 11 puts the family conflict in a new perspective.
The poignant script, by Anna Sandor and Bruce Graham, never plays favorites between father and daughter. In a smart, subtle touch, the two learn about each other through comments from other characters.
Panettiere and Pullman give such fine, well-matched performances that neither character has an edge. Their understated acting also prevents the movie from capsizing into sappiness.
As a whole
Tiger Cruise presents the supporting characters in far simpler terms. Along for the ride are an ice-cream-loving boy, a talkative girl and a mischief-making drummer who endangers his pals in a far-fetched plot.
Yet the writers have a knack for letting characters redeem themselves. The finest bit of dialogue falls to a fellow who, up to that point, has been particularly annoying.
The tape supplied to critics was rough and awaiting final technical work. Otherwise, "Tiger Cruise" is a smooth operation.
It's the rare family film that teaches the importance of growing up, the value of duty and the need for respect between parent and child. Even as it explores a dark chapter in U.S. history, "Tiger Cruise" delivers something hopeful and reassuring.
So it earns a medal as a feel-good film.
The greater, long-term effect of "Tiger Cruise" will be to remind viewers about real military families and their sacrifices.