You know you’re about to embark on a mid 90s comedy when the first scripted laughs are a misdirection golf and an unabashed (and recurring) penis joke. This is pretty standard for any comedy in that era, and the fact that you probably thought of 100 different films that fit this description before landing on “Down Periscope” is further proof that 90s comedies had a formula that very few films sought to stray from. For better or worse, there are countless films exactly like “Down Periscope,” and while it’s not necessarily a memorable one, I am always inclined to look favorably on films that embrace what they are. This one makes no qualm with what it is or its intentions, making it a fun if somewhat forgettable 90s comedy that just happens to turn 25 in March of 2021.
Starring Kelsey Grammar as Lt. Commander Tom Dodge, “Down Periscope” follows a rag tag group of navy submarine officers on a run down ship sent to compete in war games to essentially keep their jobs. As Commander Dodge, disliked by his fellow commanders, and his crew are all but set up to fail, the crew manages to continue to beat the odds and by coming together and embracing their differences, they may just prove everyone wrong and come out on top.
“Down Periscope” features the who’s who of rising comedic stars, with just about everyone in the cast being a recognizable or once recognizable face. To name a few, it includes the likes of Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, William H. Macy, Lauren Holly, Patton Oswald (blink and you miss him) and yes, Rob Schneider. No mid 90s film would be complete with good old Rob, doing whatever it is that he does that some people find funny. It’s honestly a film that makes you wonder who ISN’t in it rather than try to name everyone that is. And honestly, everyone does exactly what you would expect of them.
Again, I’m extremely partial to films that don’t try to force comedic actors out of their element and don’t make any excuses for what they’re trying to accomplish. “Down Periscope” fits just about every theme and trope you could bake into this kind of film, and it never apologizes for doing so or pretends that it wants to be anything else. You can criticize it all you want for being uninspiring and lacking identity in a sea of comedies (pun intended), but you can’t fault it for giving you exactly what you pay for. Plus, any film that gives you a justifiable reason to hate Rob Schneider gets a pass in my book.
A collection of slapstick situational comedy with a layer of dick and fart jokes make up this flick. Hell, the longest running gag in the film is a dick joke, and biggest most blatant joke is a fart joke. But you know what? Farts can be funny. And “Down Periscope” has a really funny one that’s done rather well in its own context. I legitimately laughed out loud despite the snobby critic in me telling me to be a damn professional.
That doesn’t mean this is a good movie. It’s not, not really. It’s average at best and largely forgettable with many people probably forgetting it even existed in the last 25 years. But it’s not a bad film, either, and any film willing to unapologetically admit what it is and stick to its guns automatically gets a bump. And I can’t stress this enough, this film practically begs you to hate Rob Schneider, which should automatically boost its merits.
Aside from its run of the mill plot and formulaic execution, I’d be remissed if I didn’t address the blatant sexism built into the very fabric of “Down Periscope.” Lauren Holly’s Lt. Lake is written, portrayed, and treated as nothing more than a thing, and while the filmmakers attempt to make amends by giving her command and somewhat of a lead role with an character arc, none of it really makes up for her being nothing more than a sexual punchline for being a woman. This film is not even close to being the only 90s comedy to commit this foul; sexism was and still is rampant throughout films, and whatever strides we made have made since only magnify it in films like this. It’s not the primary focus of the film, and the film can absolutely still be enjoyed in spite of it, but it’s very important to call these things out when we see it regardless of how accepted it may have been in the culture at the time.
Overall, “Down Periscope” is a fun watch or rewatch, even if you only do it once and never really think about it again. It certainly doesn’t stand the test of time, as I watched it once when I was 16 years old and didn’t watch it again until I was required to by circumstance. I remember enjoying it a lot as a teenager, and I was pleasantly surprised watching it again years later. However, I don’t know that I would ever watch it again, as it doesn’t add anything new to the conversation of mid 90s comedies and doesn’t make a case for being quotable or culturally relevant enough to maintain rewatchability.
If you haven’t seen “Down Periscope” in a long time, I might recommend giving it another go if only for nostalgia. If you’ve never seen it, I’m not entirely sure I would advise you to give it a try. If you know what to expect, at the very least you won’t be disappointed as the film is exactly as advertised.
If for nothing else, watching “Down Periscope” for a valid reason to hate Rob Schneider is probably worth it, too.