Film: Down Periscope

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.

Examples of:

  • Accidental Innuendo: See Heh Heh, You Said X below.invoked
  • Accidental Misnaming: Nitro can never get Admiral Graham's name right.
  • 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.
  • The Alleged Car: The Stingray. It was chosen for the war game because of its obsolete, decrepit nature.
  • Artistic License – Ships: During the final chase, the Orlando surfaces (using stock footage from The Hunt for Red October) to chase the surfaced Stingray. In Real Life, while diesel submarines are much faster when surfaced, nuclear-power subs are actually slower. A real nuclear-powered sub would never surface when chasing someone.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: When he first meets his crew, Dodge gets Stepanek to settle down by informing him that "if I throw you off, it'll be in the middle of the Atlantic." Later in the film, Dodge does in fact throw an insubordinate member of his crew off of the Stingray in the middle of the Atlantic - but it's not Stepanek, it's Pascal, and he's tossed onto the waiting net of a helpful fishing boat rather than into the water.
  • 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.
  • Butt Monkey: LT Marty Pascal. Bonus points for the fact that he's played by Rob Schneider.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sonar's attempts to mimic whales by recording their calls. Also, Dodge's skill in calculating targeting solutions is shown early on via him nearly getting a hole in one while teeing a golf shot from the deck of a moving submarine.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two live torpedoes.
  • 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.
  • The Comically Serious: Just about the entire crew of the Orlando. They act completely professional and serious at all times, completely unaware of ensuing hilarity happening on the Stingray, or the unconventional tactics her crew is pulling off to elude them.
  • 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...
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Several of Dodge's plans are incredibly risky, dangerous, or just so ludicrous that they seem unlikely, such as disguising themselves as a trawler full of drunk fishermen. Lampshaded in the climax by Spots, who says that the crew would prefer the risky maneuver, since it keeps working for them.
  • Custom Uniform of Sexy: Lt. Lake's uniform ends up being much more revealing after her shipmates sabotage her laundry.
    Dodge: Lt. Lake, you are almost out of uniform.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most everyone gets a moment or two, it's that kind of movie, but of note is Stepanek's introductory scene; dressed like a biker, being escorted by SPs as he yells at and threatens them...
    Dodge: Oh good, our chaplain has arrived.
  • 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.
  • Do-Anything Soldier: Nitro is the ship's electrician, but he is doing double duty as a radio operator as well. Also, Buckman is seen doing deck maintenance when he should be cooking.
  • Double Entendre: Take a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. Add one cute dive officer. Hilarity Ensues.
    Stepanek, on seeing Dodge exiting the aft torpedo room serving as Lake's quarters: Polishing the old torpedo, Sir?
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: One of Rear Admiral Graham's complaints against Thomas is his owning one of these.
    Rear Admiral Graham: 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' tattooed on his penis!
  • Freakier Than Fiction: The basis of the movie - war games pitting decades-old naval hardware against modern equipment - has not only been done repeatedly in Real Life, but has often resulted in victories for the low-techs through skill and guile. The losing side has even changed the rules mid-game on occasion, but not in a subtle manner like Graham's manipulation of the playing area - they actually declared that the ships the low-techs sank were floating again.
  • Friendly Enemy: The crew of the Orlando are just doing their best to win the wargame, same as the crew of the Stingray. It's Graham that acts as the Big Bad of the film.
  • Genius Bonus: During the final chase, Howard yells into the squawk box, "This is what I live for! DBF!!" DBF is short for "Diesel Boats Forever!", and was the unofficial motto of the US Navy's long-since-retired diesel submarine fleet as nuclear-powered subs became more common. Howard is relishing the chance to best a modern nuclear boat with his venerable diesel sub. Also a bit of Actor Allusion, as Harry Dean Stanton was a US Navy submariner in WWII.
  • 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
  • Groin Attack: Pascal gets his luggage tossed straight into his groin right after he's made to walk the plank.
  • 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 M*A*S*H, 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.
  • Indestructible Edible: The can of Deviled Ham mentioned in It Tastes Like Feet.
  • 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.
  • 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 Façade: 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 façade 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!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Lt Pascal may be a loud Control Freak, his complaints about how Buckman runs the galley are entirely justified.
  • "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!
  • Large Ham: Dodge
    • Admiral Winslow.
  • Lethal Chef: Buckman's kitchen practices are probably what landed him on the Stingray in the first place; the most glaring things we hear about are a fingernail and band-aid in the food on two consecutive days (the band-aid was holding the fingernail on, you see,) and then there's the deviled ham...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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! Parts of the film were apparently filmed in the San Francisco Bay area in California, where the hills are much closer to the coast.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lt. Lake, after her laundry is sabotaged.
    Dodge: Lieutenant Lake, you are almost out of uniform.
    • In-Universe, the crew views Lake as this until she proves her skill as dive officer.
  • The Mutiny: Lt. Pascal, way too by-the-book for this Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, eventually decides to "relieve the captain of his duties" after Dodge ignores both Rear Admiral Graham's orders and Pascal's advice to follow them. However, as Dodge secretly had orders from a higher-ranking admiral, Pascal's move was a classic case of mutiny. As for how well it worked, see above under Didn't Think This Through.
  • The Neidermeyer: Rear Admiral Graham, LT Martin 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.
  • 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 sonar use, not to mention mimicry, 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 mostly unknown; all that's known is that he was an Ensign at the time (meaning he likely was not in commmand), got blindingly drunk afterwards, and received his Embarrassing Tattoo while inebriated.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Buckman, when confronted by Pascal regarding his cooking.
    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.
    • Also, while Pascal is yelling at him, Buckman sprays shortening on the floor and ladder behind Pascal's back, leading to the latter to slip on both items.
  • 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!?
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Emily Lake asks for this, gets it, and then kisses the captain.
  • Pirate Parrot: Nitro wears one at Pascal's walking the plank. Oh, and it is an uncooked chicken.
    Buckman: Don't let it fly away, that's supper.
  • Plank Gag: Dodge gets Buckman to unwittingly pull one on Stepanek, as Stepanek's comeuppance for slacking while everyone else is doing scut work.
  • Radio Contest: Nitro tried to connect the sub to Admiral Graham's phone call. Being Nitro, it got misdirected,
    Dodge: 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?
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Dodge's crew obviously. We've got:
    • A hot-tempered and uptight Executive Officer.
    • A crusty old Chief Engineer who's actually a civilian contractor (because no active Naval personnel is familiar with a Balao-class engine system).
    • A rebellious Engineman who wants to be court-martialed.
    • A sharp-eared Sonar Technician who could not only hear a pin drop, but identify the make and model of said pin from the sound it makes hitting the floor. In this case, there wasn't anything wrong with how he did his job, his leadership were just paranoid that anyone with hearing that sharp would be a security risk and wanted him gone.
    • A compulsive gambler with a well-established (and hilarious) losing streak.
    • A former U.S. Naval Academy basketball player who choked on his Big Game.
    • A shock-prone (and shock-addled) Electrician who can channel more voltage than a Pikachu.
    • A cigar chomping chef of questionable culinary skill and personal hygiene.
    • A female Dive Officer to test the feasibility of a coed crew (giving Dodge further headaches).
    • And pretty much every other insubordinate reject the Navy had available. All put together in a World War II vintage rustbucket of a submarine by a Glory Hound Admiral who was actively sabotaging both the wargames and Dodge's career.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "In the Navy" by the Village People.
  • 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 for modern diesel-electric subs with air-independent propulsion; not so much for a World War II vintage submarine.
  • Ship Tease: Dodge and Emily. At one point Emily even expresses her admiration and gratitude to Dodge by giving him a kiss on the lips.
  • 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!
  • Side Bet:
    • Money exchanged hands aboard the Orlando right after the climax of the film, between Captain Knox (CO of the Orlando) and his XO.note 
    • 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, and played with in multiple scenes:
    • When the Stingray is trying to avoid detection by the Orlando earlier in the exercise, they're doing well in hiding until Buckman rips a massive fart that the Orlando's sonar operator says almost sounds like an explosion.
    • Other notable events that break silence: three loose coins hitting the deck (Orlando) and accidentally hitting the ocean floor (Stingray).
    • However, it's successfully inverted by the Stingray as well. At one point, being hunted by sonar, Dodge leads his crew in a drunken singalong. However, combined with some modifications to their profile and a howling storm, they convince the opposing sub that they're just a trawler full of drunk fishermen.
  • 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.
  • The Squadette: Emily Lake.
  • 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.
  • Toilet Humor: Buckman almost ruins Silent Running Mode with a mammoth fart. More comedy as the crew must stifle any urge to shout in disgust, which stretches into an Overly Long Gag.
    Dodge: Someone find Buckman and launch him out a torpedo tube!
  • 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.
  • Way Past the Expiration Date:
    • The food stores aboard the Stingray date, in at least one case, back to The Korean War.
      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!
      Buckman: Oh. Well, that would be a problem...
    • Most of the crew view the Stingray as such, at least until she starts winning the wargame.