by Mel Valentin
"Into the Blue," an underwater action/adventure/thriller directed by John Stockwell ("Blue Crush," "Crazy/Beautiful") from a script by Matt Johnson (the deliriously bad, if nonetheless splendid, "Torque"), may be, in the final analysis, disposable escapist fare hampered by script deficiencies, but it also manages to be a sporadically entertaining, engaging flick, due primarily to the underwater photography and crisply directed action scenes, shot and edited unobtrusively without the standard issue quick cuts or overactive camerawork. Audiences bored or unengaged by the admittedly ill-fitting storyline can simply sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds (sights and sounds of underwater life that would be perfectly at home in a Jacques Cousteau documentary).Set in the Bahamas (the island of New Providence), Into the Blue follows the changing fortunes of Jared (Paul Walker), a recently fired diving instructor, and his girlfriend Sam (Jessica Alba), a shark handler in a local aquatic park. Jared dreams of repairing his rusting, leaky boat and becoming a full-time salvager (a/k/a treasure hunter). His prospects, however, look dim and his individualistic ethos stops him from joining the crew of a well-financed salvager (and potential business rival), Bates (Josh Brolin, nearly unrecognizable in sunglasses and goatee). He still has Sam, though. Jared and Sam are typed as a “pure” romantic couple, motivated by selflessness, integrity, and self-sacrifice (that and keeping their bodies sleekly toned and tanned).
"Plays the low-expectations game to near perfection."
Jared and Sam’s near-idyllic life is interrupted by the arrival of Jared’s longtime friend, Bryce (Scott Caan), an amoral, criminal defense attorney and Bryce’s newly acquired playmate, Amanda (Ashley Scott), a party girl into recreational drugs. When Jared and Bryce meet at the local airport, their greeting turns into wrestling each other on the floor of the airport, typical of homosocial bonding displays among ostensibly straight men (and bound to raise an eyebrow in knowing audiences when it's repeated later in the film). Thanks to his law firm, Bryce has unrestricted access to a former client’s house and boat. On a free dive, the two couples discover artifacts buried in the sand that might have belonged to a fabled, 19th-century ship, the Zephyr. If found, the Zephyr promises to make the salvagers wealthy (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, apparently). In the first of several complications (followed, of course, by multiple reversals for the characters, including ever present sharks), they discover a semi-intact, downed cargo plane near the Zephyr's presumed location. The cargo plane is no ordinary plane, however. It contains more than 800 kilos of cocaine. Of course, the current owners of the downed cargo plane want their merchandise returned to them.
Topside, the four characters debate their next course of action. If they inform the local authorities, they’ll also lose their claim to the sunken treasure ship (a key plot point turns on whether the characters can find an object or artifact that clearly identifies the Zephyr). Per his “tempter” role, Bryce suggests selling some of the drugs to finance the expensive equipment they’ll need to uncover the Zephyr, leaving the two couples at odds with each other. Needless to say, the conflict between the two groups leads to another reversal, the involvement of a drug lord, Reyes (James Frain), multiple day and nighttime dives, with and without scuba equipment, the exposure of a hidden villain, several violent deaths or bloody injuries, including one particularly gory injury that somehow made it past the ratings board, and a predictable, action-oriented resolution (again, mostly underwater).
With a derivative, (mostly) predictable storyline (partly borrowed from Peter Benchley's follow-up to Jaws, The Deep, a novel centered on divers and sunken treasure), a generic score peppered with contemporary hip hop and rock songs (all of them equally generic), underwritten dialogue (some of it, as expected, unintentionally laughable), derivative characters (and predictable character arcs), and several unresolved plot threads, Into the Blue seems to have little worth recommending to paying audiences. It does, however, due to the striking underwater photography, a primary reason for director Stockwell’s involvement (he’s an experienced surfer and diver). Using a separate team for the underwater scenes (close to 50% of Into the Blue takes place underwater), Stockwell was able to obtain breathtaking shots of the clear, pristine, blue-green water and the teeming marine life, including manta rays and sharks. Thankfully, it also means that Into the Blue relies minimally on digital effects (most obviously at the climax, a shot likely to elicit laughs).With so much of the film’s running time occurring underwater, the primary roles demanded heavy physicality from the actors, especially Paul Walker, who seems to spend half his time underwater without the benefit of scuba equipment. Of course, a secondary reason (at least for some viewers), for recommending "Into the Blue" centers on the lead actors, Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, both of whom spend most of the film’s running time half-naked (a cynical viewer might call their clothing deficit equal opportunity exploitation) and underwater. Few viewers are likely to complain about the visuals (e.g., the underwater photography or the physically appealing actors), even if the performances are, at best, adequate. In the actors’ defense, however, the script for "Into the Blue" makes few demands on the actors, and when it asks Walker and Alba to share a romantic scene together, they’re hampered by substandard dialogue.
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originally posted: 09/29/05 21:53:11