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Down Periscope is a 1996 comedy movie starring Kelsey Grammer as Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge of the United States Navy. Though considered by many to be a talented officer, he has been denied command of his own submarine twice for his... cavalier command style. A third denial will forever bar him from commanding a submarine.

But Vice Admiral Winslow has a feeling that summarily dismissing an officer like Dodge would be a bad thing, and has come up with a method of proving it - a war game which pits the USS Stingray, one of the Navy's last remaining diesel submarines, against the East Coast nuclear navy. Dodge's assignment - simulate a terrorist strike against Charleston and Norfolk.

However, his opponent, Rear Admiral Graham, doesn't think the Navy needs irrepressible screwups like Dodge, and is willing to stretch the rules to the breaking point to prove it - starting by giving said screwup the crew he believes such a screwup deserves -- ultimately a mistake that will make a laughing stock of the U.S. nuclear navy, as Admiral Winslow has explicitly ordered Dodge to "think like a pirate" to show that most of the world doesn't play by the book, and that's exactly what Dodge is going to do.

Notably Lt. Emily Lake (Lauren Holly) is supposed to be the first female submarine crewmember in the history of the United States Navy. She is a Diving Officer.

Examples of:


  • Actor Allusion: Harry Dean Stanton's character is pretty much the same character he plays in Alien.
  • Behind the Black: When Rob Schneider's character is walking the plank, Lt. Lake doesn't seem to notice he's going to fall safely into a fishing net until he actually does so. It should have been hard to miss the giant fishing boat right next to the submarine.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two live torpedoes.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sonar's attempts to mimic whales by recording their calls.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Nitro, due to having "absorbed a lot of voltage" in his radio operating electrical career. 'Sonar' Lovacelli is, to a lesser degree, one as well.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When the Stingray makes its first dive down to 500 feet, Chief Engineer Howard attaches a string to the walls of the sub. As the Stingray's depth increases, the water pressure begins squeezing the hull, causing the string to sag noticeably. Howard grins at Nitro (having put up the string to demonstrate this very thing) and says...

 Howard: Bet ya never saw anything like that on one of those big nukes.

Nitro: Uh, no, we didn't have clotheslines. We had those dryer things, with a window in the front.

    • Also Buckman, when confronted by Pascal regarding his cooking.

 Pascal: Today there was a fingernail in my food. Yesterday, it was a band-aid!

Buckman: Sorry Sir, the band-aid was keeping the fingernail on.

  • Communications Officer: Nitro, a skilled but very eccentric electrician who manages to coerce the aging ship's radio equipment to work via various short-circuits (including several passing through his own body).
  • Composite Character: Nitro is apparently both the ship's electrician and radio operator (in Real Life, these are separate rates). Justified in that adding another character as a radio operator would be unnecessary.
  • Control Freak: Executive Officer Martin Pascal just can't relax and go with the flow...
  • Did Not Do the Research: At the climax, the Orlando is ordered to surface to chase the Stingray. While the WW 2-era Balao-class submarine needs to stay on the surface to maintain speed, a Los Angeles-class submarine is actually faster when submerged.
    • Let's just say that, beyond the things they had to do to make it funny, the whole movie is a very, very unrealistic and inaccurate portrait of how submarines and their crews look and operate.
      • Justified as the US Government wouldn't allow film of what interior of a real active submarine looks like.
      • Somewhat averted in that the USS Stingray was partially filmed on a real WW 2 Balo-class submarine.
    • In a similar case, the torpedos being used by the Orlando have a range much shorter than those in real life. Even the torpedos used in WW 2 by submarines had a longer range. This is probably more of a case of Short-Range Long-Range Weapon though.
  • Double Entendre: Take a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. Add one cute dive officer. Hilarity Ensues.

  Stepanek: Polishing the old torpedo, Sir?

  • Embarrassing Tattoo: "I just don't think we should be handing over control of a billion dollar piece of equipment to a man who has 'Welcome Aboard' tatoo'ed on his penis!"
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "So what's this tattoo I've been hearing about?" "Well, it's a long story..."
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Commander Knox
  • Harmless Voltage: Nitro, of course. With all the voltage he's absorbed over the years, it hardly even bothers him any more.
  • Heh, Heh, You Said "X": Dodge, when talking to the crew about a woman (Lt. Lake) being on board:

 Dodge: All right, look, gentlemen. I know this is an unusual situation. Can't be easy for Lt. Lake here to be thrown into a jungle such as this, and I know it will make things hard on all of us...

Crew: [laughter]

Dodge: Let me re-phrase that. It's going to make things difficult on all of us as well. But if we just work together as a team, I'm sure we can handle ourselves...

Crew: [laughter]

Dodge: Comport ourselves as professionals. That is all.

  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Nitro's name really is Nitro (his full name being "Michael K. Nitro" according to the filming script). (He's considering "Mike" as a nickname.)
  • Homage: Sonar is one to Radar from MASH, in name if not necessarily manner.
  • Hot Sub-On-Sub Action: The Stingray has to make the final stage of their run on Norfolk with the Orlando in hot pursuit.
  • Hyper Awareness: Sonar Technician 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli can hear how much change is dropped on a nearby submarine. And a crewman eating an Oreo on another deck. And a couple of lobsters dukin' it out. This IS helped by his listening equipment, but it takes more than fancy gear to point out that someone dropped "forty-five cents. A quarter... and two dimes."
  • Indestructible Edible: "What's the matter, sir? It still tastes like creamed corn..."
    • "Except, it's DEVILED HAM!"
  • Indy Ploy: Almost everything Lt. Cmdr. Dodge does amounts to winging it.

 Dodge: Men, we'll need to use a tactic that is somewhat bizarre and extremely risky.

Spots: Actually, sir, I think we prefer to go with bizarre and risky. It's worked for us so far.

 "Goddammit, Buckman, this tin's been here since Korea!"

"What's the matter, sir? It still tastes like creamed corn..."

"Except, it's DEVILED HAM!"

  • Jerkass Facade: Stepanek. He makes no secret of the fact that he's out to make as much of a pain in the ass of himself as he can. However, he draws the line at screwing over the other members of the crew.
    • Interestingly, the facade crumbles entirely once he has a chance to play Big Damn Hero in the engine room; Yes, Stepanik, there is a place for foulmouthed badasses on submarines, it's not all cramped clockwork boredom.

 Stepanek: Now that was fun!

  • Join the Army They Said: String halogen lamps on periscopes!
    • "Be all that you can be!"
      • "That's the army song, Jackson!"
  • Large Ham: Dodge
  • Moving the Goalposts: Graham constantly changes the rules in order to give himself the advantage in the war games, including "I have to know where my attacker is coming from in order to catch him," as if a real enemy combatant would make it that easy. Dodge rightly ignores him; he had higher orders.
  • Military Brat: Stepanek, of all people. Turns out his father is Admiral Winslow, and Stepanek's been using his mother's maiden name.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: An odd version: The Appalachians do run through Virginia, but aren't visible in any way in Norfolk, being nearly 200 miles away!
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lt. Lake, as shown above.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Nitro can never get Admiral Graham's name right.
  • The Neidermeyer: Rear Admiral Graham, XO Pascal as well.
  • Never Live It Down: In-universe example: Dodge's Embarrassing Tattoo, which everyone seems to know about and feel the need to mention.
  • No Indoor Voice: Pascal, most of the time. Of course, it is Rob Schneider...
  • Noodle Incident: The Murmansk brushing incident. Although it's known that in Real Life there have been such incidents (which generally are the end of the responsible CO's career), the details of the one involving Dodge are unknown.
  • Pirate Parrot: "That's supper."
  • Plank Gag: Dodge gets Buckman to do it to Stepanek when everybody except Stepanek is doing scut deck force work.
  • Radio Contest: "Dodge here... 'Stairway to Heaven'... Led Zeppelin, 1971, right? Well, hey, good news, guys! We just won the Billy Joel tickets and the WROK T-shirts! Nitro, you wanna get me Admiral Graham, now?"
  • Reassignment Backfire: Dodge and his entire crew.
  • Rock Beats Laser: It seems a restored World War Two submarine could be a threat to US harbors - if it was crewed and commanded by mad geniuses.
    • Believable because real diesel subs are almost impossible to detect underwater. They are limited by operating range (not an issue here) not stealth. It's said trying to track them is like "trying to listen for a flashlight."
    • And even more believable because this exact issue is well known to the Navy, and is, among other reasons, why the Navy is still keenly interested in improving the SOSUS warning system. The Stingray's mission and tactics are, surprisingly, not that far off from current worries the U.S. Navy has about diesel/battery subs and nontraditional tactics. In one real life war game, the opposing force, run by an admiral with something of Dodge's attitude, defeated an entire battle group ... twice, as the umpires declared halfway through that all the ships he had "sunk" were now floating again.
      • That's because on a nuclear subs the cooling pumps of the reactor had to be on all the time, lest it suffers a meltdown, and they create a fairly loud hum which can be an absolute bitch to isolate. Even in a newest reactors that can use a natural convection to sustain a low power levels without turning the pumps on, the rush of coolant through the tubes is loud enough to be a problem. Diesel sub, on the other hand, can turn off basically everything, and the electric motors on a low power setting are virtually silent, so the only thing that could be heard from them are rush of water over the hull (basically non-existing on "creeping" speeds), and, indeed, a crewmen farts.
      • Also, the wargame in question was most likely MC02, where General Van Riper did use unconventional methods to win, most notably motorcycle couriers, but also including cruise missiles launched from boats weighing less than the missiles. Additionally, the boats were "raised" because either the wargame ended early, wasting money, or the wargame ran on and they got good lessons. Also he assumed his motorcycle couriers could move at the same speed as radio traffic. See [1] for more detail into how exactly he cheated
    • In fact, it happened already when, in 2006, a Chinese diesel sub went undetected by USS Kitty Hawk's battlegroup until it surfaced within torpedo range.
    • It regularly happens during exercises and wargames too. For instance, ruring the exercise JTFEX / TMDI 99 the Dutch "Walrus" diesel submarine "sank" a lot of American ships including an aircraft carrier, a command ship, a cruiser and several destroyers and frigates.
      • This is the reason why most of the navies around the world retain diesel subs for brownwater duties.
      • This also only works if the carriers are limited geographically as in exercises. In any real war, a diesel electric submarine would be unable to catch a carrier group at sea without being extremely lucky due to the sub's extremely low top speed compared to the carrier.
    • Partial averted by the characters comments that in a more conventional battle a diesel sub would be useless against a nuclear sub.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal:

 Graham: You watch yourself, Dodge. You are addressing a superior officer!

Dodge: No, merely a higher ranking one!

  • Side Bet: If Dodge succeeds, he'll get to command a real submarine.
    • Money also exchanged hands aboard the Orlando right after the climax of the film, between Captain Knox (CO of the Orlando) and his XO[1].
    • Spots and Jackson are also seen exchanging money a couple of times. Keep an eye on them whenever something exciting happens.
  • Silent Running Mode: Except Buckman just can't leave the beans alone...

 Captain: Hear something?

Sonar man: Yeah... Almost sounded like... an explosion?

  • Springtime for Hitler: Since he doesn't want to serve on a submarine at all (let alone one like the Stingray), Stepanek tries to get himself kicked out of Cmdr. Dodge's crew, starting from the moment he first arrives. Of course, Dodge sees through it immediately.

  Lt. Cmdr. Dodge: If I throw you off, it'll be in the middle of the Atlantic. Board the damn boat.

    • This also serves as foreshadowing. Having gotten the idea by threatening Stepanek with it, Dodge later does indeed throw somebody off the boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Complete with plank, blindfold for the condemned and pirate hat for the Captain, crew singing a dirge, fishing boat willing to catch the ousted crewmember and return him to shore Dodge disposes of that insufferable bastard Pascal.
  • The Squadette: Emily Lake. She, of course, finds Dodge irresistible.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Graham doesn't like Dodge because he doesn't play by rules, or act like a proper officer. So how does Graham go about ensuring that Dodge won't receive command of a submarine? By cheating, and generally being an arrogant prick.
  • Stripper Cop Confusion: In Real Life, women weren't allowed on US submarines - Dodge is thus thrown by Lake's appointment as the ship's dive officer, not knowing about a (then fictional) experimental program to see if women will be allowed to serve on subs.
    • Society Marches On: As of Feb 19, 2010, Defense Secretary Gates told Congress that the ban has been lifted, but only for the larger Ohio SSBN/SSGN subs; the larger vessels are easy to convert for dual-sex operations, as they have nine-person staterooms for the crew instead of a single "barracks" type berthing for the enlisted crew. Presumably, if this is expanded to attack submarines in the future, it'll only be on new-construction ones that provide similar accommodations.
  • Submarine Pirates: A U.S. Navy wargame calls for simulating an attack by terrorists working in conjunction with Submarine Pirates.
  • Those Two Guys: Spots and R.J., the Stingray's Planesmen. The movie occasionally pauses to show them discussing whatever while at their post, usually R.J.'s basketball career and Spots' betting.
  • Token Romance: Lake and Dodge. It was just kinda thrown in there.
    • Alternative Character Interpretation: it's a mentor/protege relationship. The only kiss in the movie is a grateful peck on the cheek - unprofessional, certainly, but as chaste as a girl kissing her dad.
  • Toilet Humor: Buckman almost ruins Silent Running Mode as above with a mammoth fart. More comedy as the crew must stifle any urge to shout in disgust. Which stretches into an Overly Long Gag as there are people rubbing their eyes as if whatever came out of Buckman's ass was caustic.

 Dodge: Someone find Buckman and launch him out a torpedo tube!

  • Too Dumb to Live: That ladder that XO Pascal tries to climb, that Buckman had sprayed with shortening? On that particular submarine (though probably part of the standard Balao design), that ladder only goes topside. The problem? The Stingray was well below the surface.
    • Although at the start of the scene, he did climb down the ladder.
  • Villain Ball: How exactly was Graham expecting to get away with lying to Dodge about the war game rules being changed and Winslow not being in charge? Even if Dodge hadn't already known about that, it's hard to see it not coming out when the exercise was over.
    • The dispute between Graham and Winslow seems to be political in nature and they seem to represent two different factions in the navy. As such with Graham 'winning' the war games, it might not really matter if Dodge and Winslow lodge a complaint and just look like sour grapes. The political perception will favour Graham and he will get his promotion.
    • Graham was administering the wargame, not Winslow. He seemed convinced that was all that mattered when Dodge called him on it.
  • Walk the Plank: What the crew of the Stingray makes Pascal do when he pushes them too far. A fishing boat is in on the joke and catches him in a strung net for laughs.

Notes

  1. eXecutive Officer
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