‘The Wave’
Roar Uthaug
Stars: Krisoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

The Norwegian “San Andreas” that’s also sometimes the Norwegian “Jaws” (but without sharks), “The Wave” borrows freely and often from the musty Hollywood disaster movie playbook. It has a little more grit, but it’s still the kind of broadly played movie where a brooding teenager dooms innocents by skateboarding with blaring headphones as catastrophe looms, and a key official blithely ignores the ranting doomsaying of our scruffy-haired hero, who of course is right. It’s a blatant calling card that worked: awesomely named director Roar Uthaug is already handling the next “Tomb Raider.” He’ll fit right in.

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Then again, that may mean the franchise will get a filmmaker of workmanlike efficiency. Uthaug knows how to hit the marks, even if every one of those marks is a hoary but comforting cliche. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is a geologist with one day left to retirement (check), before he uproots his family from a homey small town to the big, bad city (check). Then again, the village isn’t so safe either — it’s nestled on a mountaintop that’s about to experience a seismic apocalypse. As he suddenly surmises, a sudden super-rockslide creates a mega-tsunami, one fitted with only mildly distracting CG and a fair share of token awe-inspiring money shots of big waves lording over houses and scampering people.

Uthaug does mass panic well, and he does the aftermath even better. Once the wave has hit, Kristian finds himself having to search for his wife and son, who wound up trapped in the bomb shelter of a swanky hotel, which is currently filling up with water. Even here everything is predictable: There’s the woman who freezes at the wrong time and gets herself killed; there’s the selfless rando who’s only there to die one of the world’s worst kinds of deaths. 

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That Uthaug is able to score any tension out of moldy situations is a feat in and of itself. Shooting in cramped spaces filling with water, and crafting some truly haunting imagery — say, shots of Kristian boating at night through fog over a sea of corpses — he captures the intensity of the survival instinct, and the trauma of being suddenly, literally almost swept away. He even briefly suggests this might end on a more European (that is, dark) note than expected. It’s no spoiler to say it won’t, but the relative modesty of “The Wave” — which gets the job down in a mere 105 minutes — is promising. After all, maybe he’ll craft the rare modern American blockbuster that doesn’t come in almost as long as “Goodfellas.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge