Tuesday 21 May 2013

And there was no longer any sea

Watching Fast & Furious 6 with friends a couple of nights ago inspired me to write up an earlier Paul Walker film that offers similarly base pleasures. Really, all Into the Blue (2005) ever seeks to accomplish is in that damnable poster: people in skimpy swimwear, with maybe a plot in there somewhere if you're the kind of snob who likes that sort of thing. By that extremely modest standard I suppose Into the Blue succeeds, inasmuch as it stars Jessica Alba and Paul Walker, both of whom are attractive and don't wear a lot of clothes. Congratulations.

But Into the Blue was hardly conceived as an experimental documentary on people displaying skin within the constraints of the PG-13 rating, a Koyaanisqatsi of late capitalist standards of beauty. That's where not-very-prolific screenwriter Matt Johnson came in, churning out a script in a couple of hours while doing something else (or so I assume). Considering Into the Blue was a sizeable flop (it made $18.8 million domestically on a budget of $50 million), that didn't really pay off.

This blog has something of a tradition of outlining a film's plot, and I'll stick with that even when the story is a wispy, ethereal thing. Anyway: we're in the Bahamas, where Jared (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Sam (Jessica Alba) go scuba-diving with Jared's visiting friend Bryce (Scott Caan), a lawyer with a heart of gold buried beneath many, many levels of jerkishness, and Bryce's girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott). As luck would have it, during the very same trip they discover both the Zephyr, a treasure-laden ship that's been at the bottom of the sea since 1861, and a plane chock full of cocaine.

That causes something of a dilemma: if our heroes report the massive amount of drugs, the DEA (who apparently have jurisdiction in the Bahamas, if Into the Blue's grasp of police work is any better than its understanding of history) will discover the wreck too, thus depriving Walker & Co. of their stab at treasure. Lacking the funds to mount a proper operation, however, they have to make do with bringing the wreck up piece by piece - despite Bryce's idea of making money by selling some of the cocaine. Meanwhile, they're starting to arouse the suspicions of Reyes (James Frain), the drug lord who owns the plane, as well as Bates (Josh Brolin), an unscrupulous treasure hunter.

Built on the astonishing contrivance of a shipwreck and an aeroplane full of drugs being found in the exact same spot, Into the Blue mostly refuses to embrace the utter ridiculousness of its concept and sort of just shuffles along, occasionally throwing a half-hearted twist at the wall in the hope that something will stick, and then ends. The script is curiously uninterested in itself, alternately being obvious and not explaining what's going on. (One character's loyalties change without any explanation whatsoever, unless I fell asleep at an inopportune moment.) The intellectual laziness of conflating centuries of Caribbean history, of course, is something of a given in this genre.

Both leads are, I suppose, better known for their looks than their acting ability, but even so Alba is distinctly better than the totally blank Walker, and more than once her despair is palpable. 'I believe in you more than in the prospect of any treasure,' the script makes her say; she tries mightily to sell that line and does not go gentle into that good night. Opposite her Walker frowns slightly, trying to remember what human emotions are and which of them he's supposed to be mimicking. So much for the leads, but there is real joy to be found in the supporting cast. Caan's smarmy frenemy is pretty good, but the standout is Brolin, then stuck in his wilderness years and committing fully to a gloriously unhinged performance that threatens to elevate Into the Blue to the level of genuine entertainment more than once.

What's worst is that the film looks terrible: its underwater world is an entirely flat sandy seabed, and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut and director John Stockwell conspire to shoot it like a modest documentary. For all its $50 million budget, the diving scenes look about as good as if they'd just dunked the actors' heads into a paddling pool. (Perhaps all the cocaine is genuine - it would explain where the money went.) In terms of the nuts-and-bolts craftsmanship that's the real glory of many a B-movie, Into the Blue is a massive disappointment. Even Jessica Alba at the peak of her pin-up days can't restore any joy to a film that looks and feels like a direct-to-video sequel that somehow found its way into cinemas.

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