Going Under

The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has an article in the current issue (April 2004) of The New Criterion proclaiming the modern world passé on the strength of Elizabeth Bishop’s succès d’estime. And one rather regards his evaluation as substantially undeniable, not because an excellent poetess has received her due, but rather because this wonderful comedy is disprized. There can be no other explanation, in one’s view.

Going Under takes up the flag from Best Defense, whose theme was a remote-control tank in Iraq, invented by Dudley Moore and commanded by Eddie Murphy. Bill Pullman here plays a Navy skipper who goes off the deep end and lands his submarine in, not on, a beach crowded with volleyball players. Nevertheless, he’s released from the psycho ward and given a new command by Admiral Malice (Ned Beatty), who is so corrupt and cruel his staff crush Girl Scout cookies underfoot. The Admiral’s partner in this venture is the head of WRT (Robert Vaughn), a man of such gentle refinement he feeds tame deer in his office, though later he flees to his limousine in a long black cape.

This sort of satire comes from Dr. Strangelove, and so does Roddy McDowall’s portrayal of the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Neighbor, as an exact duplicate of Misterogers. The United States Sub Standard is camouflaged to look like a whale, with two “eyes” and a working jaw. There are sendups of The Hunt for Red October and The Abyss. It encounters the Soviet fleet and a Japanese whaler called The California Roll. At the controls (“location unknown”) is Admiral Malice. It even has an Imaging Room aboard, out of The Illustrated Man.

Wendy Schaal is delightful, Bill Pullman is a genius, Joe Namath plays himself.