Not a thriller so much as an extremely violent swimsuit calendar, the lushly lensed but dramatically waterlogged "Into the Blue" is too infatuated with its scantily clad stars to make sense of all the drug dealers, boat looters and bloodthirsty sharks trying to hunt them down.

Not a thriller so much as an extremely violent swimsuit calendar, the lushly lensed but dramatically waterlogged “Into the Blue” is too infatuated with its scantily clad stars to make sense of all the drug dealers, boat looters and bloodthirsty sharks trying to hunt them down. Toplining presence of Jessica Alba — and her bikini — will attract goggle-eyed males aplenty, though overall B.O. looks shallow for this late-summer holdover from MGM and Columbia.

When a small plane carrying a lot of screaming foreigners and 800 kilos of cocaine crashes off the coast of the Bahamas, it presents a golden opportunity for amateur treasure seeker Jared (Paul Walker). In a pair of coincidences straight out of 1977’s “The Deep,” Jared and his friends discover the downed plane and, nearby, a slew of jewel-encrusted artifacts that, if proven to be the remnants of a legendary Spanish shipwreck, could be worth millions.

Jared’s classy girlfriend Sam (Alba) wants nothing to do with the coke. Somewhat less principled, his lawyer buddy Bryce (Scott Caan) and blonde-du-jour Amanda (Alba’s former “Dark Angel” co-thesp, Ashley Scott) suggest selling it so they can buy the equipment necessary to excavate the treasure.

Apart from a rival treasure hunter (Josh Brolin, looking effortlessly sleazy) and a few sharks circling ominously nearby, draggy first half focuses almost exclusively on the central foursome as their idyllic beach-bum lifestyle slowly gives way to ripples of greed, mistrust and eventual mutiny. But this isn’t exactly “Knife in the Water,” and since the characters are as thin as their swimwear, the interplay barely merits sustained attention.

If Matt Johnson’s screenplay initially suffers from slack pacing, things do pick up in the second half, which piles on plot twists, intros new characters (“24’s” James Frain turns up as a menacing Brit), and ups the underwater mayhem exponentially.

Helmer John Stockwell brings the pic to a climactic 15-minute frenzy of violence, cross-cutting roughly but effectively between two parallel lines of action, with harpoons, explosives and strategically timed shark bites all coming into play. Harrowing sequence is surprisingly graphic for a PG-13 rating, though still a minor payoff for a thriller otherwise lacking in tension.

Still, given the abundance of flesh onscreen throughout, auds probably won’t be bored. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut’s leering camera angles leave no cleavage unexplored, while the deep-focus photography conveniently allows the odd body part to be unsubtly magnified in the foreground.

Alba, an actress of greater gifts than she’s allowed to exercise here, takes the exploitation in stride, though it’s Scott, stuck with an irritating and ultimately dispensable character, who is ogled most excessively.

In a role that requires more swimming than acting, Walker is in his element here; at times, he resembles a bronzed mer-god posing for a subaquatic centerfold. Caan gets some of the script’s better lines and tosses them off with a loose-limbed wit, but his slackerish vibe doesn’t make him persuasive as a New York attorney.

Fittingly, the eye-candy cast boasts an actual supermodel, Tyson Beckford, playing a nightclub owner who figures into the drug rap.

The underwater photography is as luxuriant and sparkling as a Caribbean travel brochure, though imagery veers toward incoherence amid the claustrophobic wreckage of the plane. Pitch-perfect below-the-surface sound mix, meanwhile, suggests a disregard for the laws of physics.

Into the Blue

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures presentation of a Mandalay Pictures production. Produced by David A. Zelon. Executive producers, Peter Guber, Louis G. Friedman, Ori Marmur, Matt Luber. Co-producers, Rick Dallago, Brandon Birtell. Directed by John Stockwell. Screenplay, Matt Johnson.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Arri widescreen), Shane Hurlbut; editors, Nicholas De Toth; Dennis Virkler; music, Paul Haslinger; production designer, Maia Javan; art director, David Klassen; set decorator, Les Boothe; costume designer, Leesa Evans; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), David Kirschner; supervising sound editors, Kelly Cabral, Lauren Stephens; visual effects supervisor (underwater unit), David Stump; visual effects supervisors, Raymond McIntyre Jr., Payam Shohadai, Marlo J. Pabon; stunt coordinator, Mickey Giacomazzi; associate producer, Erin Mast; assistant director, Lars Winther; casting, Randi Hiller, Sarah Halley Finn. Reviewed at AMC Century City 14, Los Angeles, Sept. 20, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Jared - Paul Walker Sam - Jessica Alba Bryce - Scott Caan Amanda - Ashley Scott Bates - Josh Brolin Reyes - James Frain Primo - Tyson Beckford

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