Stars: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Matt Craven. Written by Michael Schiffer. Directed by Tony Scott. Rated R for violence, profanity.

If one gets a sense of deja vu while watching "Crimson Tide", it's completely understandable. The music, the special effects and even, to a certain extent, the storyline mimic those of the great film "The Hunt for Red October". Director Tony ("Top Gun") Scott doesn't have quite the subtle touch of his "Red October" counterpart, but he does deliver the goods in this thinly-plotted drama.

Although the Cold War is a fading memory, a volatile Russian nationalist seizes control of a nuclear missile base and threatens to nuke America if things don't go his way. The U.S. military sends the USS Alabama, a nuclear submarine helmed by Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), to thwart this danger. En route to their destination off the Russian coast, an official communique is received which indicates that a launch is imminent and that the sub has been authorized to fire its own nuclear missiles in a preemptive strike.

A skirmish with a Russian submarine cuts of a subsequent communique, one that possibly could have countermanded the first. Captain Ramsey asserts that they must comply with the orders in hand and continues preparations to fire their missiles. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), the sub's executive officer, doesn't concur. He believes that regulations require that they attempt to receive the failed communique again before taking action. The crew divides their loyalties between these two leaders with explosive results.

The "ends justify the means" philosophy of the film rubbed me the wrong way, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the compelling conflict of wills that propels "Crimson Tide". Tense and suspenseful, the film is likely to find a receptive audience. As a political thriller, it's not in the same league with Tom Clancy's work. But as escapist summer fare, it fits the bill nicely.

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