ZERO STARS/**** Image C- Sound C-
starring James Coburn, Costas Mandylor, Finola Hughes, Alex Hyde-White
screenplay by J. Everitt Morley and Keoni Waxman
directed by John Putch
by Walter Chaw A freakish hunk of mismatched celluloid offal that hews together the already ripe (and continuously ripening) corpses of The Poseidon Adventure and Speed II, schlock-meister John Putch's Deep Water (formerly Intrepid) is so wilfully bad that calling it such would be a self-defeating waste of time. It's also an appalling waste of time to note that Deep Water rips off The Impostors and Deep Blue Sea, too, while doing next to nothing to justify tonal and thematic shifts that occur with the frequency and severity of Dick Cheney's heart attacks. The way to approach a criticism of Deep Water is to relate something of my personal experience.
I spent some time after college tending bar at a little Italian restaurant that was home to easily the dumbest person west of the Mississippi. One night, she asked me how to change a child's Sprite float (read: a hunk of ice cream floating in Sprite) into a Coke float. I pondered that question for a long minute before deciding that the only solution was, in fact, to start over. During that pondering time, however, I was stricken with a horror that this woman had asked me a question I could not answer. It was so monumental a query and phrased in such an odd way, you see, that there was no automatic response for it: It was a zen riddle and I was flabbergasted to have had such a thing presented to me at that time by that person--until I realized that I had just been sucker-punched by an exceedingly vapid problem.
Deep Water is a dumb question like that: there's nothing to figure out about it except for its plot, which would seem deliciously inscrutable but for the nagging realization that it doesn't make sense because there's no sense to be made. It's a Rubik's Cube where every square is a different colour. Costas Mandylor (your first clue) plays some kind of Navy Special Forces guy who, in an extended opening sequence that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of the film save likewise being a rip-off (of Ronin), kills some English-speaking Russians before going on a nice cruise with his dorky partner (David Kaufman). The opening cruise portions are uncomfortably like "The Love Boat", which isn't as disconcerting as the fact that they are intercut with stock footage of an aircraft carrier. Basically, a fighter crashes into the ocean with a nuclear bomb on it that subsequently explodes, the shockwave capsizing the cruise ship and sending people to their hilarious doom. A thirty-ish woman plays a punk rock teenager, Finola Hughes is woefully miscast again as a sentient mammal, and James Coburn, who probably didn't spend more than a single embarrassed day on set, portrays the captain of the carrier in a series of anchorless and apparently improvised insert shots.
Deep Water is philosophically disturbing for the fact of its existence. Trying to Xerox a good film I understand, but borrowing from several really terrible films and ever hoping to come out on top is an exercise in hopelessness that is terrifying for its dogged optimism. Deep Water resides in that curious space between unwatchable and compulsively watchable. More to the point, it's a foundering ship that can only be made aright if you capsize the damned thing and start over.
Fox DVD's presentation of Deep Water is an example of the new and disturbing trend of releasing films on the DVD format in fullscreen pan-and-scan aspect ratios. Although no one will probably complain much when it's applied to films such as this and Silent Trigger, it does point to the popularity of the format and the rising ignorant tide of the masses and their dislike of "those black bands" at the top and the bottom of letterboxed images. Owing to the varying quality of the source prints cut and pasted to assemble a film, the quality of Deep Water's video transfer is difficult to judge on its own merits. Sufficed to say that it looks a lot like a TV movie for the most part, the aircraft carrier inserts suggest the grainy B-reel footage that they are, and the digital renderings of the capsized ship resemble ludicrously cheap CGI. I've seen better graphics produced for the Super Nintendo. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is tinny with underwhelming rear channel effects; the dialogue is uselessly crisp--I suspect the film would have been improved immeasurably sans exposition. The rest of the presentation consists of a bathetic trailer and sparse cast & crew filmographies. Originally published: January 10, 2002.