A film review by Craig J. Koban
INTO THE BLUE
2006, PG-13, 110 mins.
Jared: Paul Walker / Sam: Jessica Alba / Bryce: Scott Caan
/ Amanda: Ashley Scott / Bates: Josh Brolin / Reyes: James Frain
/ Primo: Tyson Beckford / Roy: Dwayne Adway
INTO THE BLUE does not – in any way shape or form – mask its true intentions in a deep and murky pool of pretentiousness. At face value, it’s a standard, paint-by-numbers action thriller set at the high seas that involves a bunch of ragtag and competitive deep-sea divers that are after unthinkable aquatic treasures and riches.
Oh, it also does not shy away from its more schlock-infested aspects. The film is a wall-to-wall T & A film as far as a PG-13 rating can allow. The cleavage and derrière shots are a plenty in INTO THE BLUE, which often parades around looking more like a lush and gorgeous cover shoot for this month’s issue of GQ or FHM.
Yup, this is - without a shadow of a doubt - the best film about scantily clad beach babes and brutes looking for fame and wealth on the highs seas that I have ever seen. That, in itself, is not saying a hell of a lot, for I can’t – for the life of me – think of another recent film about Bahaman divers that make a startling discover of riches at the ocean floor, all while wearing the absolute smallest of swimwear before without actually achieving nudity. I guess, when all is said and done, INTO THE BLUE is kind of sleazy, inoffensive fun that taught me a few critical, life-affirming lessens: (a) only tiger sharks are aggressive enough to want to eat people and (b) Jessica Alba looks so unattainably photogenic in a string bikini that watching her in the film could cause momentary paralysis.
Alba, of course, seems to be this year’s “it” girl, and has headlined a number of films of varying degrees of quality. She was seen earlier in 2005 in SIN CITY, a vicious and stylish film noir that was one of the most visionary works of the year. She was also somewhat horribly miscast as The Invisible Woman in FANTASTIC FOUR, a somewhat failed super hero picture (I say “miscast” in the sense that, gosh darn it, she was invisible in the film…c’mon!).
In both of those films she essentially necessitated their need for aesthetically pleasing window-dressing and nothing more. Alba is not, by sheer definition, a praiseworthy thespian, so those of you out there expecting performance miracles out of her in INTO THE BLUE should take a reality pill. For the audience members that thought they saw too “little” of her in FANTASTIC FOUR, INTO THE BLUE is like a wonderful prescription medication that your mind has craved for months but could not attain. Okay, and for all of you ladies out there, the film also stars Scott Caan and Paul Walker, both who also look unfairly attractive in swimwear and the latter – whose inherent surfer droll and Southern, Keanu Reeves-like woodenness as an actor - makes for a successful pairing with the equally inept Alba.
INTO THE BLUE, despite all of my sarcastic harping, is easy on the eyes for its 110 minutes for reasons other than the painfully obvious. Of course, we are dished out oodles of invasive shots that chiefly display both Alba’s and Walker’s assets to the world (this is a fairly democratic exploitation film that uses both sexes equally), but the film also looks sensational in terms of its under water sequences. Huge props need to go out to both director John Stockwell and cinematographer Peter Zuccarini, who teamed up and led a group of ocean bound photographers to create some fascinating and remarkably lush and vivid under water moments. The film is a double whammy – its stars all look unremorsefully good and do so while swimming casually in equally beautiful waters, often alongside some seemingly dangerous looking sea life.
On simple levels, INTO THE BLUE is a somewhat pleasant diversion because of its lack of a synthetic artifice. This is not one of those boiled over, hyper stylized, and CG stuffed action thrillers directed with a mind-numbing penchant for visual and editorial indulgences. INTO THE BLUE is, more or less, fairly straightforward filmmaking in terms of its overall narrative and visual look. The movie is not nearly as mindless and gratuitous as many have led you to think. Stockwell and the actors all team up to create a film that looks like an attractive travelogue, to be sure, but at least they try to ground the proceedings in a plot that provides modest intrigue and moments of shock and awe. The film does not care to engage its heroes in scene after scene of impossibly difficult stunts and montages of super human action. By the end, the film also commands a levelheaded amount of anticipated suspense.
The plot for the film is moderately simpleminded. In the Bahamas a group of four friends – who also happen to like diving in their off time – get together for a little R and R. Jared (the usually stoic and one-note Walker) and Sam (Alba – as fetching as she’ll ever look) spend a lot of their time on a leaky boat, but dream of attaining prosperity by finding that one sunken treasure that will be their meal ticket out. Of course, at the beginning of the film, they have not discovered much, but – aw shucks – they love each other a whole lot, which is worth more than money, right? Casting a shadow over them is the larger and vaster boat of Bates (Josh Brolin, giving a performance out of “Acting Like A Ruthless Antagonist: 101”), who has a lot of fame and wealth and wants to lure Jared to the sea-faring Dark Side. No dice, says Jared, and besides…something is rotten with this guy…or is there?
Anyway, Jared’s close friend, Bryce (the decent Scott Caan) flies in for a visit with his “close” girlfriend of 12 hours, Amanda (Ashley Scott). They all decide to get together and go for a little diving and soon find not one, but two treasures, pretty much in the same place. They find one ancient treasure trove with centuries-old riches and a sunken airplane with a heck of a lot of cocaine on board. Of course, the centuries-old treasure would prove to be highly lucrative in its own right, but the greedy and manipulative Bryce has other plans with the coke. Of course, being the morally correct beach bunnies that they are, Jared and Sam want to have nothing to do with Bryce’s scheme. Unfortunately for the two of them – if not all of them – things take a nasty turn South and their predicament spirals out of control dangerously fast. To make matters even worse, there’s tiger sharks in the water and a drug king pin (were you expecting another type of villain?) makes his appearance and he seems more vile and deadly than the ravenous sharks.
Those that complain about the lack of strong performances in this film miss the boat, no pun intended. Walker has proved, as he did with the FAST AND THE FURIOUS films, that you can still lack range and breadth as an actor and still cement the viewer in the overall arc of the story. Both he and Alba are a perfectly matched pair, and – yes – they spend a great deal of their time posing and strutting in scenes that look magazine cover page spreads. Yet, when the story threads thicken and danger looms around the corner, you grow to care about them to a degree. Caan makes an effective foil to the breezy and carefree, noble attitudes of Jared and Sam, and he plays his part with a respectable amount of contemptible ooze and suspiciousness, as does Brolin. Perhaps this film does not get enough credit for at least given its stock characters brains in their heads. There have been characters like this in other hapless action-thrillers, but in those films they march around idiotically at the expense of the absurd plot. The personas in INTO THE BLUE at least try to rationalize and think through their dire circumstances.
Watching the film it’s evident that it was made with a fairly decent amount of professional competence and polish. The story itself – albeit simply defined – goes on a acceptable arc and leads the viewer to a tense third act (people you think will be killed are not) and the makers seemed to have spent more time postulating on the characters and plot than they did on grand spectacle. The under water scenes, as already mentioned, give the film a breathtaking and lurking beauty, as well as hidden dangers. The film is surprisingly involving, and not just because of its stars bodies.
I am not ashamed to admit that I liked INTO THE BLUE. The film does not hit you over the head with any discernable audio-visual overkill (as do many contemporary action films), nor is it completely witless and inane enough to offend your intelligence. It plays effectively as a LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU crossed with a thriller and then finally capped off with a smorgasbord of scantily clad male and female heroes that look almost inhumanly buff. Around all of the golden skin, pearly white teeth and chiseled facades rests a somewhat asinine, but exciting and entertaining, adventure yarn that is a bit too appealing to be labeled as disposable. The film has an undeniable seamy appeal for which I am not afraid to say I appreciated. Perhaps I appreciated Alba even more, as she is maybe the only screen presence in movies today that is fetching enough for me to want to explore shark infested waters with. INTO THE BLUE easily facilitates its status quo as a piece of cinematic and delicious eye candy with acceptable amounts of intrigue.
Oh, and did I mention Jessica Alba? Never a dull moment when she’s on screen.