In the future, the polar ice caps have melted, the world is covered by water, and everyone is left to fend for themselves as scavengers in a grim reality. This is Waterworld, and you’ll be glad to know: even in this harsh realm, the women still shave their legs.

The most expensive movie ever made (the final word is $172 million), Waterworld will be a true monument in Kevin Costner‘s career. Unfortunately, this film isn’t going to have quite the effect something like Dances with Wolves had. The bottom line is Waterworld is a marginal film: always extravagant, sometimes entertaining, often preachy and dull–a pure formula picture.

The story is time-tested and painfully simple. Costner plays The Mariner, a lone drifter on the watery surface of the earth who talks about his boat more than Forrest Gump. Jeanne Tripplehorn (The Firm) plays Helen, the love interest and the protector of Enola (Tina Majorino), a child with a strange tattoo which just may show the way to the mythical paradise of Dryland. The obligatory bad guy is The Deacon (Dennis Hopper), a slave driver/preacher with heavy artillery that acts a lot like, well, Dennis Hopper. I won’t be the only one to say, ‘It’s Mad Max on water.’

Of course, The Deacon wants the kid. The Mariner wants to protect her and falls in love with Helen. So for 134 minutes, The Deacon chases the trio, turning up over and over and over, always out of nowhere (ever try to hide on the ocean?), and always being thwarted by The Mariner. Basically, it’s Costner trying to be a superhero, swinging around on a lot of ropes and blowing up everything else.

This gets pretty old after awhile, especially since Costner looks more concerned with what’s for dinner than what’s on the screen. The other problems are innumerable: it’s hard to figure out where the story is headed, the bad guys act like members of a bumbling Keystone Coast Guard, and a number of effects are obvious digital fakes. There are a few bright spots, but it ends up being a passable story with lackluster execution.

All the hype surrounding this film has really spoiled what there was to enjoy. If you see it, you’ll probably be trying to figure out where all that money went, too (I only counted about $100 million). It’s too bad; you’ll need that brainpower just to figure out what’s going on.