I'm a big fan of disaster movies. I also recently went on a cruise. And I'm not all that fond of water. So it was inevitable that I would see Poseidon, a movie that must be witnessed on the big screen for the full effect.

Everyone knows the story by now: Poseidon, a massive cruise liner, flips over when a "rogue wave" strikes during a New Year's Eve celebration. Just about every passenger is gathered in the grand ballroom, although the youngsters are also celebrating in one of the (invariably many) nightclubs on the ship. And just like that, their world is literally turned upside down.

Our hero is the professional gambler, Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas). Rugged, shifty, and a little too smooth for his own good, Dylan is an ex-Navy man who lost his moral center. He finally meets a woman seemingly immune to his charms in the form of Maggie James (Jacinda Barrett) and her son Conor (Jimmy Bennett). What's a lovable rogue to do?

One of those rich folks that Dylan separates from their money is Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), a former New York City mayor and ex-fireman. His daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) struggles for her independence with her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel). There's also the lovelorn Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss) who is considering killing himself, and the secret couple of Marco Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez) who smuggles aboard Elena Gonzalez (Mia Maestro). And how could we forget one-note Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon)!

While the ship's captain, Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher) advises that everyone stay in the ballroom, Dylan has other plans. He leads Maggie, Conor, Robert, Richard, and Marco to find his daughter in the nightclub. Facing their own struggles to survive in the nightclub are Jennifer, Christian, Elena and yes...Lucky Larry.

I don't remember the original Poseidon Adventure very well, but it was a very detached experience, much less horror and much more of a character study. Fortunately, director Wolfgang Petersen isn't interested in showing how good an actor can mime hysterics. Instead, he goes for the throat; this is a disaster film and it looks like it: dead bodies float everywhere. When the ship flips, everything flips with it, and we can never forget that our protagonists are upside-down because every sign, door, and table is the wrong way. And then there's the water.

Gurgling, growling, snaking through shafts, suffused with flames; water has never been so terrifying. The survivors must swim through a conflagration, in the dark, through a nettle of wires, past floating dead bodies, and at one point, hold their breath to the breaking point. It is horrible. It is undoubtedly realistic. It is a disaster movie with a capital D.

Throughout, there are little bits of humor that help relieve the tension. I mean, there's a guy named Lucky Larry for crying out loud! Conversely, Poseidon is deadly serious about the plight of its characters, and the survivors must make a host of moral choices that force us to ask: faced with survival or death, would we make the same decisions and sacrifices?

Disaster movies are in a particular quandary these days. It's no longer sufficient to pretend that we're watching a make believe event that can happen to fictional people. Always lurking in the back of our minds is the possibility that whatever disaster we're witnessing could happen to us...or happened recently. When is a movie about a disaster appropriate?

The answer is that there is no appropriate timing for a film. I think releasing Poseidon on May Day was an inspired choice. It's our reaction to it that moviegoers must ultimately decide for themselves. If the film disturbs you...then perhaps that was the point.

If you're ready for a wild ride, if you've ever been afraid of water, or if you always wondered what nature thinks of big floating cities in her oceans...see Poseidon.