Some low-voltage thrillers are so thoroughly predictable as they meander toward an obvious outcome, they generate far more impatience than suspense. Exhibit A: “Dead Water,” a tepid VOD-ready melodrama that strikes faint echoes of Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” and Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” while ponderously padding 60 or so minutes of plot to feature length. Time and again, you may find yourself thinking, “Come on, come on, let’s get going.” And if you’re in the privacy of your home, well, thoughts may inspire irritably spoken words.
It doesn’t help much that director Chris Helton provides little in the way of distinctive visual stratagems or subtly ominous subtext during the long setup for his tale of a weekend yacht cruise that turns deadly. (Indeed, there is barely any text here, much less subtext, and none of it is subtle.) And it doesn’t help at all that, as the host of the excursion, Casper Van Dien is so transparently sleazy from the get-go, you wouldn’t be surprised to spot at any point in the proceedings a mop-and-bucket brigade cleaning up slime in his wake.
Van Dien is John Livingston, an aggressively gregarious fellow who, despite his apparent tendency toward binge drinking, has prospered sufficiently as an orthopedic surgeon to afford an impressively appointed 75-foot Lazzara luxury motor yacht. By coincidence, he purchases the vessel shortly before David “Coop” Cooper (Griff Furst), his late brother’s best friend, is discharged from the Marines after a few harrowing tours of duty in Afghanistan.
John appears deeply concerned as Coop struggles with anger management and other PTSD issues, especially after Coop overhears two guys in a bar making rude comments about Vivian (Brianne Davis), his beautiful TV news reporter wife, and expresses his disapproval nonverbally. So John suggests that his buddy might benefit from some therapeutic downtime on the open water by accompanying him to the Virgin Islands, where they can pick up the yacht and take their sweet time traveling home. And oh, yeah, Vivian can come along for the trip as well.
Naturally, nothing good comes of this.
To give them fair credit, Helton and scripter Jason Usry make a game stab at ratcheting up tension with some sexually charged, semi-Pinteresque byplay among the three lead characters as they drink too much, talk too long and, most important, push too hard during card games and physical challenges. Around the halfway mark of the movie, however, we’re introduced to a fourth character, Sam (Judd Nelson), a scowling Mr. Bad Vibes who emerges onto the deck of a fishing boat named Usual Suspects (no, really) with a scraggly beard, a bloody gash above his eye, and no apparent reason to exist other than making life difficult for at least one or two people on the yacht. Which, of course, he does.
As bad as “Dead Water” might seem while you’re watching it, it’s even worse when you when you replay it in your mind after the fact, and pay stricter attention to holes in the plot and gaps in the logic. Really, the most satisfying things in the movie are the payback Brianne Davis’ Vivian delivers to a would-be assailant, and the assailant’s inadvertent role in neatly wrapping up the storyline. It should be noted, though, that the storyline is so thin, “Dead Water” actually continues a few minutes after it concludes.