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 crew member in the history of the United States Navy. She is a Diving Officer.The film is a parody of Up Periscope and other films in the submarine-film genre.
Artistic License - Military: There's plenty of stuff that has those actually familiar with the Real Life US Submarine Service laughing not only at the intentional comedy that's a surprisingly accurate reflection of submariners, but the unintentional variety as well. While some of the inaccuracies are due to writer ignorance, and some are due to Rule of Cool or convenience to the plot, some of the issues surrounding the USS Orlando can be chalked up to the film production staff not having access to classified USN information.
Nitro is a good example, in that depending on the scene, he's jumps between the role of electrician and radio operator, something that Real Life navies have as separate rates.
Behind the Black: When Pascal is walking the plank, Lt. Lake doesn't seem to notice Pascal is going to fall safely into a fishing net until he actually does so.
Blunder Correcting Impulse: While the submarine is passing between the propellers of a larger ship Dodge gives less than perfect orders to get Lt. Lake out of her crisis of ability.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Most of the crew fit this trope, which is how they ended up on the ship to begin with, starting with their Commanding Officer, LCDR Dodge. Both on and off the job, he's an immature goofball, but he also shows that immature does not necessarily mean irresponsible. His antics are never shown to actually affect his job performance, he gets along well with his subordinates, and he whips a derelict rustbucket submarine into seaworthiness over the course of a montage.
Chekhov's Skill: Sonar's attempts to mimic whales by recording their calls.
The Chew Toy: Nitro has to endure electric currents through his body several times, just so Dodge can talk to somebody.
Cloudcuckoolander: Nitro, due to having "absorbed a lot of voltage" in his electrical career. His Establishing Character Moment is basically him testing loose wires for voltages without a meter. '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.
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).
Patton Oswalt has a small role as Stingray's dedicated radio operator.
Composite Character: Nitro is apparently both the ship's electrician and radio operator (in Real Life, these are separate rates). Justified in that for this mission, the Stingray really doesn't need a full-time radio operator.
Control Freak: Executive Officer Martin Pascal just can't relax and go with the flow...
Damage Control: The Stingray ends up busting some water mains in the engine room during a risky maneuver, leading to Stepanek's Big Damn Heroes moment.
Didn't Think This Through: Pascal tries to remove Dodge from command, as Dodge has intentionally disregarded Graham's orders (Dodge did so because he has higher orders from Winslow). He fails to account for two things. One, Dodge's actions have earned the respect of the crew. Two, his own actions have alienated the whole crew. He seems shocked and outraged when he realizes that Dodge has called him mutinous and is about to take care of the matter.
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", after jerking as if an explosion went off in his ear after the coins hit the deck.
Insane Admiral: Rear Admiral Graham. He starts off as just an asshole, but by the end of the film the lengths he goes to to try and rig the wargame and screw Dodge over have pushed him fully into Mad Brass territory.
Insult Backfire: Graham's protests against giving Dodge a submarine over his "Welcome Aboard" tattoo only amused the other Admirals, and potentially made them more impressed with Dodge as a submariner (a naval branch that emphasizes roguish qualities). Admiral Winslow himself saw it as a positive trait for a renegade sub captain.
Winslow: Damn it to hell, don't go by the book! Think like a pirate! I want a man with a tattoo on his dick! Do I have the right man? Dodge: (glumly) By a strange coincidence you do, sir.
Jerkass Fašade: 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 fašade crumbles entirely once he has a chance to play Big Damn Hero in the engine room; Yes, Stepanek, 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: When stringing halogen lamps on the periscope as part of a ruse to look like a fishing boat in rough nighttime weather, Jackson sings an old US Army recruiting ad song.
Jackson: Be all that you can be! Dodge: That's the army song, Jackson!
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 Vice Admiral Winslow, and Stepanek's been using his mother's maiden name to avoid allegations of favoritism.
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!
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Graham's providing a bum crew for Dodge probably would have steered him straight for another wargame victory, if only Sonar hadn't been among them. His insane talents for hearing and radar use are the most directly responsible for Dodge coming ahead in troubling situations.
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.
Pascal: Buckman! There was a fingernail in my food! You fat ass moron! Yesterday, it was a band-aid! Buckman: Sorry Sir, the band-aid was holding the fingernail on.
Office Golf: Early in the film, Dodge gets chewed out by his captain for playing golf off the top of their sub as it was sailing into port. He actually does rather well, hitting a long shot onto shore and getting very close to the hole.
Knox: Do you want me to pull in so you can putt out!?
Reasonable Authority Figure: Vice Admiral Winslow. He's sees the potential in Dodge and gives him higher orders that give him more flexibility than Graham would permit in the war game.
Reassignment Backfire: Dodge and his entire crew. He also sees the importance of the war game to the Navy, while Graham simply sees it as another feather in his cap.
Rock Beats Laser: The whole point of the film's plot is that an old diesel submarine could be a threat to US harbors - if it was crewed and commanded by people willing to play outside the rule books of more conventional submarine forces in an underwater version of guerrilla warfare. This is Truth in Television, at least to a limited extent; enough so to cost real life military planners some sleep.note There are a host of technical reasons diesel subs are rightly considered obsolete, mostly related to cruise longevity, but for a short time they can run more silently than nukes. When a diesel's submerged on battery power, its engines are off; a nuke has to keep circulating coolant through its reactors at all times.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Towards the end, Dodge calls out Admiral Graham on his flagrant cheating.
Dodge: Since when did the rules ever apply to you? Graham: You watch yourself, Dodge. You are addressing a superior officer! Dodge: No, merely a higher ranking one! Catch us if you can!
Money exchanged hands aboard the Orlando right after the climax of the film, between Captain Knox (CO of the Orlando) and his XO.note eXecutive Officer
Spots and Jackson are seen exchanging money a couple of times. Keep an eye on them whenever something exciting happens.
Silent Running Mode: Pretty much a given in a submarine movie, in this case the Stingray trying to avoid detection by the Orlando and other ships several times during the exercise. Unfortunately for Dodge, Buckman just can't leave the beans alone...
Captain Knox: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.
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, at the time the movie was made 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. He thought that she was hired by the crew as a present for him.
Submarine Pirates: A U.S. Navy wargame calls for simulating an attack by terrorists working in conjunction with Submarine Pirates. Winslow's orders explicitly say "think like a pirate". The Stingray crew even plays it up when making LT Pascal Walk the Plank following CAPT Dodge's decision to ignore RADM Graham's attempt to rig the wargame, flying a "Jolly Roger" flag and dressed up in piratical clothing. Nitro never bothers to change out of his costume or wash off the fake beard for the rest of the run, and even giving the occasional "Arr".
Title Drop: It's a sub movie called Down Periscope. A title drop is a given.
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.
Pascall: Goddammit, Buckman, this stuff's been on the Stingray since Korea! This can expired in 1966! Buckman: "What's the matter, sir? It still tastes like creamed corn... Pascal: Except, it's DEVILED HAM!
Most of the crew view the Stingray as such, at least until she starts winning the wargame.