By Matt Neufeld
The Washington Film Institute
Alas, the year 2020 is not getting off to a good start in movieland, with the release this month, January, 2020, of three huge, stinking, dead-on-arrival, and horrendously misguided, mismade, misfired and mistake-filled movies that, point blank, did not need to be made and should not have been made: “Underwater,” the horrendous, shameless rip-off of “Alien” and 10,000 other grade-Z monster movies; the horrendous Robert Downey, Jr. attempt at a kids’ movie—perhaps that phrase should have singled someone somewhere that this was not going to work—“Dolittle,” proving once again that Hollywood simply cannot make a decent, workable and enjoyable film version of this classic series of childrens’ books; and the horrendous “Bad Boys For Life,” a clinking, clanking, clunking, colliding, cacophony of combustible confusion and calamity that is so dumbed-down and dumb, it appears to have been made in some alternate universe, say the MichaelBayBadMovies Z-Movie Universe. And, yes, that’s four uses of horrendous, because these three bombs and flops deserve repeated reminders of just how awful they are.
Don’t go see any of these movies this month. Instead, spend your movie dollars wisely on the instant-classic and wonderfully inspiring social drama “Just Mercy”—which just got stupidly ignored by the increasingly irrelevant and ridiculous Academy Awards carnival of horrors; or go out and enjoy any of the quality, fun, entertaining and above-average films that were released at the end of 2019 but are still in theaters this month, January, 2020: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” “1917,” “Little Women,” “Bombshell,” or—yes, it’s worth seeing—“Cats.” These are the movies to see in January, 2020. (Yes, “Cats.”)
Now, if you can stand it, a quick run-down of three prime examples of the major illness affecting Hollywood and the movie business in general—sequelitis, the infectious disease striking the movie industry in which an unneeded, wasteful, unoriginal, formulaic, cookie-cutter barrage of uninspired sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, reimaginings and franchise films are made, clogging up movie screens, crowding out more deserving and more intelligent films—often lower-budget and smaller-studio independents, foreign films and documentaries that everyone should be seeing—and generally, continually bringing down the movie industry to the point where the entire business is constantly teetering just a few frames and just a few releases and just a few bombs from complete disaster.
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Nunez, Joe Pantoliano, Kate del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Thomas Brag
Written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan
Story by Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan
Directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith and Doug Belgrad
Cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert
Edited by Dan Lebenthal and Peter McNulty
Music by Lorne Balfe
An intelligent person would rightfully think that Hollywood producers would have given up on—and stopped producing–the hapless, hopeless cop buddy movie action-adventure comedy about, oh, hmmm, 1987. The genre was already old, tired and cliched by then, if not earlier. An intelligent person would also rightfully think that Hollywood studios would have given up on—and stopped producing—any movie similar in tone to any Michael Bay film, regardless of genre. Well, you’re wrong, and, yes, as intelligent people trying to second guess Hollywood, you’re forgiven for any failed bets. Because Hollywood is the land of failed bets. And, overall, in general, the cop buddy movie action adventure comedy is one big failed bet.
The latest in this tired charade and parade genre of cop buddy movies—which are often movies that end up being an insult and an offense to real-life, actual police, law enforcement and public safety officers—is “Bad Boys For Life,” a movie for which there exists zero reason for the film to be made. Money? Sony and Columbia Pictures certainly don’t need money bad enough to release this stink bomb. Will Smith? Will Smith doesn’t have to work another day in his life. Martin Lawrence? Martin Lawrence doesn’t have to work another day in his life. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer? Are you kidding? Bruckheimer’s estimated to be a billionaire—that’s billionaire, with a “b.” So no one needed to waste their time on this moronic, idiotic, dumb and dumbed-down head-battering, ear-shattering, mind-numbing, cookie-cutter, formulaic mess of a movie. No one.
It’s better to list the continuing array of questions that surround the release of such a bafflingly bad B-movie—or Z-movie–as “Bad Boys For Life,” which is, believe it not, the third in the “Bad Boys” series: Why are there actually three “Bad Boys” movies? Why? Why is this movie coming out twenty-five years after the first film in this series, “Bad Boys,” which was indeed released in 1995, already several years past the expiration date of the cop buddy action adventure comedy movie? (And that original “Bad Boys” wasn’t a good movie, either, by the way.) Why was there a “Bad Boys II,” which was somehow released in 2003, a time when the copy buddy action adventure comedy movie had already been thoroughly satirized, parodied, insulted, put down and put to rest, and original “Bad Boys” director Michael Bay had been clearly exposed for the explosion-and-car-chase-gunfight-fistfight hack that many believe he is? (“Bad Boys II” was just as bad as “Bad Boys.”) Why is Will Smith making this dumb movie, after making a name and solid reputation for himself as a serious dramatic actor in several dramatic films in recent years? (Will Smith is worth an estimated $350 million, according to several resources!) Why is Martin Lawrence doing this movie? (According to several resources, Martin Lawrence is worth an estimated $110 million!) Why doesn’t Jerry Bruckheimer produce a nice, low-budget independent drama about, say, a sixteenth century reclusive king with acute arthritis or a life-threatening mental disease, or a poet who falls in love with a mime, or an avant-garde painter who is misunderstood by society because at night, anonymously, he spray paints dark, gloomy, Gothic vistas and landscapes on the sides of historic churches? If you were a billionaire, wouldn’t that be a better use of your filmmaking time? And, most importantly, why on earth would anyone want to spend $14 for seeing a movie that you could just about write the script for in your sleep, a fitful sleep at that.
Here’s the basic plot for “Bad Boys For Life,” and try—just try—to see if any of this sounds familiar: Two veteran police detectives in always sunny, always bright, always neon-splashed (even in the daytime, it seems) Miami are grizzled, are gruff, are tough, are pseudo-macho, and they’ve been doing this police detective shtick so long, they communicate not through normal conversation, but through arguing with each other, insulting each other, and making fun of each other’s respective manhood, sex lives, athleticism, physical abilities and abilities to shoot guns, drive cars fast, hit people and hit people some more and talk, like, real cool, to the point of using bad grammar, incomprehensible English and made-up copspeak and streetspeak that sound like bad take-offs from some satire of “A Clockwork Orange.” The grizzled, pseudo-macho veteran cops are questioning how long they can keep doing this. One cop, the one with a wife and kids and a new grandkid, wants to retire. The other, the single guy, you know, who still wants to be free and independent and single, doesn’t want to retire. Suddenly, amid the non-witty attempts at witty repartee, a criminal from one of their past cases appears and takes revenge on one of the cops. The cop is injured. This jolts the other cop into re-thinking his retirement. The cop recovers, and goes renegade and rogue and nomad and independent and whatever and just takes off after the criminal—with minimal investigation, research, resources and interviews, he suddenly finds the cop thousands of miles away, just like that! He puts his life in danger going after the criminal. The other detective goes after his friend, putting his retirement plans on hold. Along the way before going after the criminal, the cops do something against the rules that in real life would get the cops arrested, charged, jailed and suspended from any police force in the galaxy for the rest of the millennium. The detectives’ captain gets angry and yells at them. The captain yells at them some more. Then, in another scene, the captain yells at the cops again. Maybe this occurred forty more times; it’s not clear. The cops go after the criminal anyway—somehow coming up with guns and grenades and knives and cars and everything they need to fight an underground criminal thousands of miles away without the help of the police department—but with the help, somehow, of a rogueish Mexican police agency!! The detectives question, oh, about four people and find the criminal and his gang. The detectives fight the criminals in non-dramatic fashion that was supposed to be dramatic. They almost die. Other detectives appear to help out. They all fight some more. The detectives win, arrive back home, and are somehow celebrated and exonerated from any criminal wrongdoing–after blowing up numerous people, cars, stores, nightclubs, motorcycles and buildings across Miami and Mexico. One of the cops is even promoted—for no clear reason! The detectives say the hell with retirement and—improbably, impossibly, amazingly, moronically—there is a teaser and set-up for what assuredly will be “Bad Boys—Fourever!”
There—you’ve just experienced all that you need to know about “Bad Boys For Life.” Yes, that is the real, actual basic plot structure for the movie, and, yes, it’s the same plot, subplot, story, dialogue, pacing, timing, editing, production, direction, writing, acting, and even music that you’ve seen one-thousand, nay, ten-thousand times in ten-thousand other cop buddy action adventure comedy movies. And that’s not over-stating the case or being too cute in bashing a bad movie. It’s just that “Bad Boys For Life” is truly formulaic, cookie-cutter, cliched, overly familiarly structured, and so unoriginal, it’s just offensive to even the casual moviegoer who’s stumbled upon scores of other cop buddy movies while nursing a hangover on a rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon channel-surfing through basic cable.
And, really, the cop buddy movie genre was never that great to start with. A few scattered films here and there showed flashes of spark—Walter Hill’s “48 Hrs.” from 1982 was funny, thanks mostly to Eddie Murphy and the film’s consistent ability to poke fun at the genre while also wallowing in all of the aforementioned clichés of the genre, too. And Peter Hyams’ “Running Scared” from 1982 was probably one of the better films of the genre, all-around, because, basically, as Hyams told The Globe and Mail, he simply wanted to do a film “that was not stupid,” he wanted “to remain earthbound,” or down to earth and somewhat realistic, and he wanted two unconventional actors to play the leads, two somewhat mismatched cops investigating a case together. So he hired Billy Crystal and Geoffrey Hines—and both actors promptly turned in two of the best performances of their careers—really. Billy Crystal was not being Billy Crystal in this movie—he was acting, and he was portraying a person far away from Billy Crystal, and Geoffrey Hines displayed the natural acting ability that he always had. If only more cop buddy films could be like “Running Scared.” And guess what? Barely anyone saw, or to this day has seen, “Running Scared.” Sigh. All you can do is just sigh.
So Will Smith and Martin Lawrence stumble through their blocks and marks and action scenes in “Bad Boys For Life,” trying for the life of them to breathe some type of life—any sign of life—in this dying film. The dialogue is so cliched, so familiar, so worn-out, you’d swear some talented sound editor simply took bits and pieces of cop buddy movie dialogue from past films and dubbed them over Smith and Lawrence moving their lips. Is that mean or cruel? No, with a script as cliched as this one, it’s not mean. The story seems to have been lifted from the file that every Hollywood studio producer keeps in his office—the file that’s filed under C for “Cop Buddy Movie,” or the file under B for “Buddy Movie,” “B Movie,” or, perhaps, simply, “Bad Movie.”
“Bad Boys For Life,” by the way, as a movie released in 2020, is the type of movie in which grown men—the idiot, violence-obsessed characters played by Smith and Lawrence—talk with bad grammar and bad English that sounds like schoolchildren who haven’t quite grasped elementary grammar and English yet; a young professional police officer calls a senior police officer “grandpa” and gets in a stupid schoolyard fight with him simply because he’s older than the young cop—stupid, juvenile, immature and childish behavior that’s never funny, even in a comedy; everyone assumes that a technology specialist cannot be a technology specialist or proficient in technology or science because…he’s buffed, toned and good-looking!!!!; men leer and sneer at women in demeaning, sexist ways that weren’t even funny in, say, 1987; and cops break so many rules, fire so many guns, mistreat so many people, and damage so many cars, buildings and people, audience members could be induced to squirm in their seats, uncomfortable with the array of senseless, stupid violence, dumb language, childish behavior and juvenile action being displayed by what appears to be characters who are grown adults.
Sony, Columbia, Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence should be ashamed of themselves. For releasing “Bad Boys For Life,” they should all be sentenced to a community service sentence of: Traveling the country and explaining the dangers of violence, bad grammar and not learning to speak proper English–in lectures to schoolchildren of all ages; apologizing to police, law enforcement and public safety agencies for their reckless, offensive and unprofessional portrayal of police officers in all three “Bad Boys” movies; and apologizing to film students at film schools for unleashing on the world “Bad Boys For Life.” Bruckheimer, Smith and Lawrence and their fellow producers and writers involved with this movie have inadvertently achieved one goal: they have made themselves real bad boys—in the literal sense.
Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna’ do, watcha gonna’ do when the filmgoing public turns on you?
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanijani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Hollanda, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Antonio Banderas
Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand
Story by Thomas Shepherd
Based on the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting
Directed by Stephen Gaghan
Produced by Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Susan Downey
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Edited by Craig Alpert and Nick Moore
Music by Danny Elfman
“Dolittle,” an equally misguided moronic mistake of a movie, raises similar questions about how or why on earth this movie was made, but rather than repeat the previous list of questions—all of which do also apply to “Dolittle”—a more pointed, detailed question needs to be raised about this childrens’ story about an animal doctor who can talk to animals which is based on the series of books by Hugh Lofting that started with the first book from 1920: Why on earth can’t anyone make a decent movie based on Lofting’s books?!
“Dolittle,” for some reason produced by and starring Robert Downey, Jr., who is precisely the wrong person for both positions associated with this movie, is, believe it or not, the seventh film version of this story—and none of them have been good movies. Lofting’s stories have also been adapted as an early silent film, as an NBC radio series, as a stage musical, as an animated television series, and as, if you can still believe it, a second stage musical version—and, if you believe most observers, critics, reviewers and members of the general public, none of these versions have been good adaptations, either.
Perhaps this is the answer to why “Dolittle” was made—perhaps Downey and his cast and crew thought they could finally strike gold with a decent version of Lofting’s originally-engaging childrens’ books. “Dolittle,” alas, continuing the curse, and the movie doesn’t even register as a flash or speck of gold in the pan. The movie does produce occasional flashes of visual effect talking animal cuteness and some occasionally striking and beautifully rendered vistas and scenery, but it’s just occasional, it’s too brief, and any flashes of visual effect and production design are overwhelmed by all of the rest of the movie’s long list of deficiencies, defects and defeats.
To start, there is one—one, mind you, one–continually, bizarrely irritating and annoying production and direction aspect of “Dolitte” that does much, so much, to derail and destroy the film: an unwise choice to have Downey speak in some incomprehensible, misguided, garbled and oddly-inflected accent that, apparently, is supposed to be Welsh. Instead, continuing a quite too-long-and-lengthy filmic tradition of failed, dumb accent decisions by actors, directors and producers who all should know better, Downey’s accent comes across as some type of unknown dialect that sounds like something spoken by some wayward forest-dwelling British group of isolated people suddenly discovered deep in the woods who haven’t interacted with the rest of the world for centuries. That’s the only possible explanation for whatever accent Downey is using in this film—it’s unclear just what this is, where it’s supposed to be from–and this one horrible use of a weird accent solely helps bring down this film. Because Downey, playing British veterinarian Dr. John Dolittle, is in just about every scene, and because he is the lead character, having the lead character who appears in just about every scene speak in a distracting, unnerving accent takes the viewer completely out of the movie—during just about every scene. Yes, it’s that bad. There was zero reason to have Downey talk with an accent in this movie—this decision also deprived the movie of Downey’s unique inflection and acting voice, a voice that would have been better used in this movie without any accent. Just let Downey talk in that patented Downey way. Instead, Downey doesn’t even sound like Downey.
Add to this the fact that despite the very best, dogged, steadfast and talented contributions from some quality actors who voice the various animated and visual effect-enhanced animals who Dolittle can talk to in their own languages, for some similarly weird reason, the synching and dubbing of the actors’ voices and the on-screen talking animals often does not seem natural or in-synch or well-dubbed. As one reviewer also noted, the voices of the animals appear to be coming from somewhere else—not from the movie’s voice and sound recorded tracks—but possibly from inside his tortured head.
For a big-budget adaptation of this familiar and long-told and long-adapted tale—the budget for this failed movie is estimated by some sources as being in the $175 million range, if you can believe that—to have the lead character speak in an unfamiliar, irritating and annoying accent that distracts from everything else, and to have the voices of the animals appear inexplicably to be coming from some undetermined place or from inside a reviewer’s tortured head—it doesn’t matter if every other aspect of the production excels, because these two very basic filmic qualities need to be top-of-the-line—because the dialogue, speeches, lines, characterizations, interactions, emotions and chemistry between Dolittle and the animals is indeed the central, core, main foundation and cornerstone of the story, the plot and the movie! As it is, “Dolittle’s” story, plot, characterizations, dialogue, lines, forward movement, pacing, timing, production, acting and plot lines are equally, inexplicably off-kilter, amateurish, overly slick, cliched, cookie-cutter, unoriginal, formulaic, unfunny and unimaginative.
“Dolittle,” alas, despite its extensive budget that was obviously spent on lavish production design, art direction, scene and set design, visual and special effects, costumes, props, and the aforementioned cast, the movie ends up a dud. These varied filmic aspects all shine at times, but all of these aspects also suffer from being just a bit too slick, a bit too familiar, a bit too clumsily staged, blocked, paced and edited, and, well, in the end, a bit too generally cliched, unoriginal and stilted.
The story is the familiar one. John Dolittle is a British veterinarian who can talk to animals. He operates an animal clinic in a huge mansion, lovingly and generously taking care of an array of cute animals. The queen is dying, having been poisoned by palace traitors hungry for power, and she can only be saved by the nectar of a rare fruit that exists on some remote, difficult-to-find, nearly-uncharted (of course, a map exists in one journal that everyone races to find) island. Naturally, Dolittle rushes off by order of the queen to find the rare fruit, bring it back, and save her—on a huge ship, accompanied by his talking animals! Of course, Dolittle is a ship captain, explorer, adventurer, swashbuckler, and seafarer in addition to his regular duties as a veterinarian! Of course! Just like archaeology professor Henry “Indiana” Jones was a stuffy classroom professor—and a world-traveling adventurer, fighter, gunslinger, code-breaker, researcher, scientist, swashbuckler, and romantic, world-traveling hero! Of course, Dolittle knows that a map, or explanation of a map, exists in a journal hidden on another island, and that journal/map/explanation will lead Dolittle to the rare fruit! Of course, the palace traitors somehow for some reason follow Dolittle immediately after he leaves to foil his plan, so the queen will die. The palace villains and Dolittle race to find the journal, race to find the rare fruit, race back to save the queen, and struggle to expose the place traitors just in time to save the queen, restore order and suddenly elevate the rogueish Dolittle to a hero of the crown, bestowed with royal awards, riches, dignity and recognition!
Do you think that Dolittle will go up against people who he angered in past adventures, people who want to kill him? Like, say, Indiana Jones? Do you think some of the animals will face peril, possible death or injury on the adventure? Do you think that some of the animals will inventively work together to free Dolittle from certain harm? Do you think Dolittle’s adversaries will abruptly change course, work with Dolittle and amazingly, suddenly forget that they wanted to kill him, and tried to kill him, two minutes earlier? Like, say, Indiana Jones? Do you think there’ll be some Disneyesque (“Dolittle” is released by Universal) moments between Dolittle and the animals, between the animals themselves, and between the animals and cute, Disneyesque kids? Do you think that Dolittle will be accompanied on his adventures by one of those Disneyesque kids? Like, say, Indiana Jones?
If you said “yes” to all of these questions, you have passed round two of this week’s film exercise. Thus, that’s all that really needs to be said about “Dolittle.”
Except to add that this movie continues the tragic history of failed “Dolittle” film adaptations, which unfortunately includes: 1) The tragic, tortured, cursed and overall doomed flopdud 1967 movie version, “Doctor Dolittle,” starring a crazed, anti-Semitic-comment-spewing, ranting, raving and egomaniac-on-the-set Rex Harrison, who apparently went literally stark raving mad while filming the eventual flop movie; 2) “Dr. Dolittle,” from 1998, with Eddie Murphy, of all folks, starring as John Dolittle!; 3) “Dr. Dolittle 2,” from 2001, again with Murphy!; and, believe it or not, three other sequels—none of which starred Rex Harrison or Eddie Murphy: 4) “Dr. Dolittle 3,” from 2006; 5) “Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief,” from 2008; and 6) “Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts,” from 2009. The latter three movies didn’t even have anyone playing John Dolittle, and all three were direct-to-DVD releases, meaning that they were not released in movie theaters anywhere.
Downey’s production company, Team Downey, was one of the production companies that helped produce “Dolittle.” Hopefully for their next project, Downey and his producing partners will perhaps choose among the thousands of other classic childrens’ books and short stories that exist out in the world, and steer clear from the obviously-cursed “Dolittle” canon. As another reviewer noted, if the world’s suffering animals could talk, or shout, they’d be telling Downey and his co-producers the same thing, and, if we could understand their words, this time their voices would definitely all be in synch, and they’d be telling a story worth hearing: please don’t make another “Dolittle” movie.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher, Jr., Mamoudou Athie, T. J. Miller
Written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad
Directed by William Eubank
Produced by Peter Chernin, Tonia Davis and Jenno Topping
Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli
Edited by Todd E. Miller, Brian Berdan and William Hoy
Music by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts
“Underwater,” a B-movie, or Z-movie, monster movie, is such a complete, shameless, obvious, derivative rip-off of Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 horror-science fiction hybrid “Alien,” “Underwater’s” credits should have included the credits for “Alien’s” producers, director and writers. For the record, “Alien’s” producers were Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; the director was Ridley Scott; and the film was written by Dan O’Bannon, from a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Since we’re unfortunately talking about the turkey “Underwater,” we also have to concurrently talk about “Alien,” so we need to give due credit to that film’s filmmakers.
A wisened, or unwisened film observer may offer up the helpful observation, “But ‘Alien’ was released 41 years ago! So perhaps it’s time for a new film to pay homage, revisit that scenario underwater, and offer a new take on that earlier film’s story using modern-day technology! You know, like a homage!” However, all of the wisened film observers may, in unison, and loudly, promptly say, “Cow manure!” First, just because a classic film was released years or decades ago, that doesn’t necessarily mean that modern-day filmmakers—no matter their intentions–have free reign to raid film history and rip off earlier films in cheap, derivative rip-offs! And, second, as “Alien” fans know all too well, there have been—believe it or not—seven—that’s SEVEN!—subsequent “Alien” sequels and prequels since 1979—with the latest version released just three years ago—in 2017. Really. If you don’t believe it, here they are: “Aliens,” 1986; “Alien 3,” 1992; “Alien Resurrection,” 1997; “Alien vs. Predator,” 1984; “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem,” 2007; “Prometheus,” 2012; and “Alien: Covenant,” 2017. The 2012 and 2017 films were even directed by Ridley Scott—really. And those other films are real, actual, films—really. That’s a lot of reallys—but it’s to prove the point that it really hasn’t been 41 years since the last “Alien” film, and there certainly hasn’t been a void of “Alien” movies.
There was also “Alien Vs. The Martians,” “Santa Claus Vs. Alien,” “Alien Vs. Freddy, Jason, Michael and Norman Bates,” and “Alien/Frost/Nixon.” No, sorry—those are made up. But one can only hope!
Nevertheless, if you’ve seen any of these Alien movies—the real ones—you have zero need to see “Underwater.”
Unbelieveably, but it’s true, this is what happens in “Underwater,” and, as an exercise, count the similarities to the original “Alien” or its sequels: A wise-cracking, isolated, hardened, gruff, tough crew of blue-collar-style workers are working in a dark, isolated, passageway, hallway, crawlspace, compartment, level and technology filled outpost, far away from anyone else, deep in the ocean, on Earth. One of those crew members is a beautiful, toned, buff woman. That particular woman spends much of the movie walking, talking, running and fighting in skimpy outfit that resembles either a very skimpy bathing suit or underwear. The woman has a very short haircut, as if to say she’s tough, mean, lean and a fighting machine. The crew includes the rebellious, wise-cracking, seemingly unstable smart aleck; the timid, untested, somewhat innocent, frightened other woman (who’s also beautiful, and who also is required for some reason to run around in skimpy clothing); the inexperienced, even-more-frightened, unreliable guy; the grizzled, mysterious, hardened leader and veteran who’s world weary and just wants to either go home or go back to sleep; and the nice guy, reliable, handsome stud guy who everyone likes. The crew’s outpost—an underwater drilling facility six miles below the surface of the ocean—is suddenly attacked. The outpost starts to fall apart. The crew goes outside in the ocean, out of the outpost, to investigate. A mysterious creature attacks one of the crewmembers. The crew actually brings the creature aboard the outpost. The creature looks like…an alien. Even though the outpost is on Earth. The outpost is continually attacked. Finally, the crew sees a huge creature outside, in the ocean, that looks like…an alien. Or an octopus. Or something. The crew has to go from one place to another place to another place to find escape pods that will shoot them up through the ocean to the surface. The creature, and other creatures, attack the crew members as they try to escape to freedom. Possibly, maybe, perhaps, someone escapes. One, the woman with the short hair in her underwear, will prove to be the hero. It’s quite possible there’s some corporate business criminality, cover-ups and general shady business shenanigans going on with the big company that owns the drilling outpost. Everything above happens in dark, claustrophobic, narrow corridors, rooms, passageways and stations, all located deep in the ocean. And all communications with anyone else are cut off.
That’s the basic plot of “Underwater,” and, yes, it’s nearly word for word, or scene for scene, what happens in the “Alien” movies. And the unintentional irony is that there’s no clear, intelligent indications that the similarities in “Underwater” are presented in a manner that represents an honorable homage or tribute to the “Alien” movies. The events just happen, they just unfold—but it all simply feels like a rip-off because of the lack of any apparent, knowing sense of tribute.
Making matters worse is that the movie literally starts in the first scene with the attack on the outpost—and the action starts immediately. That’s not a good thing. There’s no build-up, no exposition, no backstory to provide any type of emotional resonance where the audience can connect with the crewmembers on a deeper level or connect with their emotions, feelings or situations in relation to their families or, again, backstories. Now, the wise film observer can say that many monster movies are just that—people fighting monsters, with little backstory drama, and that’s true. But that also doesn’t mean that most monster movies are good movies—because they’re not. They all, too, follow the same tired, cliched story, and many seem to exist just to display visual and special effects pertaining to the monsters or the monsters’ paths of destruction. There may be some subtle hints at messaging by suggesting symbols, analogies and messages about man playing god, destruction of the environment, the bomb, the Cold War, man versus nature, the revenge of a destroyed wildlife ecosystem, lessons about man versus animals, and many other themes, and, yes, occasionally a monster movie rises above the normal to stand out. John Carpenter’s 1982 version of “The Thing,” as well as the original “The Thing From Another Planet,” from 1951, rise above the norm and are classic horror and science fiction films. The same with Ridley Scott’s original “Alien,” from 1979.
These films, and others, of course, are well-written, well-directed, and have an overall quality filmic approach—well-edited, well-paced and well-structured. “Underwater,” however, starts with an attack—and hurtles headlong into one long chase film through those underwater corridors, passageways, hallways and stations. The film ends up being just one long chase scene, and it’s not suspenseful, interesting or captivating. The movie unintentionally ends up being as claustrophobic, insulated and cut-off from its audience as the crew members are in their deep, underwater outpost.
Kristen Stewart tries valiantly to be heroic, strong, dedicated and likeable—and she succeeds. When she is on screen, the camera stays on her face in many scenes, and that’s a smart move—she’s trying to convey the emotions of a woman trying to display courage and bravery and honor amid what appears to be a nearly impossible mission—to get her and the rest of the crew to a particular part of the outpost where they can get to those escape pods and get back to the surface. Stewart’s presence, physicality, determined acting—and, yes, her good looks—combine for a strong performance. Alas, her performance cannot save this movie from the overpowering array of deficiencies.
“Underwater,” alas, ends up being, well, underwater. For a good, quality monster movie, filmgoers would be better off revisiting Ridley Scott’s original “Alien,” 1951’s “The Thing From Another Planet,” and John Carpenter’s masterpiece of horror and science fiction from 1982, “The Thing.”