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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Kristen Stewart proves she’s a badass movie star in Underwater, a long-delayed and surprisingly decent deep-sea horror/thriller from director William Eubank. While it stands to be the second big-budget box-office disaster in a row for Stewart after Charlie’s Angels, it deserves a better fate: The movie is actually pretty good.

The film doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or work any miracles. It’s successful in a very basic way that engages from beginning to end, with an occasional effective scare, a constant sense of dread and high-pressure tension.

Stewart stars as Norah, an underwater engineer on a drilling rig in the middle of the Mariana Trench. We first see her brushing her teeth as the lights around her flicker, and then we hear some dull thuds. She glances around; she plays a little with a spider in the sink. She doesn’t seem too concerned.

Then, “Boom!” Her section of the rig implodes, blasting water all around her as she and another crew member narrowly escape into a temporary safe place … and by temporary, we mean for the next 30 seconds or so.

Norah makes her way through the quickly mounting disaster, meeting up with other crew members (including T.J. Miller, here for comic relief in a movie made well before his personal controversies made him a casting no-no). The vessel’s captain (a strong Vincent Cassel) hatches a plan involving big diving suits and walking on the ocean floor toward a safer zone. The group reluctantly goes along.

It’s not an earthquake or volcanic eruption that has caused their work home to be compromised: Instead, sea creatures of unexplained origin—some the size of the chest-burster in Alien, some of more Godzilla-type proportions—are menacing the rig and occasionally dining on humans. Jaws-style, the creatures are slowly but surely introduced, until a finale that is full of monsters.

Eubank stocks his cast with talent (including Jessica Henwick of Game of Thrones and John Gallagher Jr.), including a lot of actors who can say a lot in just the way they look, so long periods of exposition aren’t needed for the audience to immediately care about them. The movie never lets up, and while it doesn’t possess a remarkable screenplay or anything resembling emotional depth, the action is fierce, and the characters register.

In fact, had the screenplay provided one more solid, apocalyptic twist or shift, this film could’ve been very good. There were moments when I thought Eubank might offer up some sort of Twilight Zone shocker, but, alas, the movie is just about people running away from sea monsters. They run away in style, but that’s all that really happens.

The monsters themselves are mostly seen through dark, murky water. Normally, not allowing a full view of a monster would infuriate me, but it works here, much in the same way it did with the cave-dwellers in The Descent. Because we witness much of the action as if we were part of the escaping crew, we often see the monsters lit by flashlights or through suit visors. It works, for the most part. However, the studio (Fox, owned by Disney) erred in deciding to make this PG-13. It needed to be an R-rated film.

Stewart provides the film with a nice center of gravity, creating a character who is clearly scared shitless, yet realistically under control. She shaved her head for the role; Norah would have that haircut because it makes sense given the living conditions, rather than it being an attempt to look tough.

So, it’s January, when studios release films in which they have no faith (along with awards contenders getting their wide releases after limited runs, like 1917 and Just Mercy). Underwater definitely fits the bill as a long delayed, question mark of a movie. Fortunately, for genre fans, it doesn’t suck. It’s passably good, and I can safely say it has no moments I would categorize as bad. It’s a good, old-fashioned, please-monster-don’t-eat-me movie, and I will gladly take one of those every now and then.

Underwater is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After a false start with the character of Wade Wilson in 2009’s uneven yet unjustly maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds gets another chance at superhero stardom—a decidedly unorthodox brand of superhero stardom, that is—with Deadpool, a twisted film from first-time director Tim Miller.

The movie establishes its weirdness with scathing opening credits that poke fun at Reynolds’ stint as the Green Lantern, and all aspects of the film’s production. It then becomes a consistently funny tragi-comedy involving Wade, a recently smitten mercenary who comes down with terminal cancer, dimming the lights on the future with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He submits to an experiment that leaves him disfigured yet superhuman—and bent on revenge against the criminal who made him this way.

Reynolds finally gets a really good movie to match his charms, and Deadpool gets the nasty film the character needs. The film has an R-rating for many reasons; there really was no other way to make a Deadpool film. It needed to be depraved, and it is.

T.J. Miller provides nice comic support as a weary bar owner, and a couple of X-Men show up in a way that is full-on hilarious.

A sequel is already in the works—and this is a very good thing.

Deadpool is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an embarrassment of overindulgence. Director Michael Bay seems to be taunting his haters by taking all of the things that sicken his detractors to despicably disgusting levels.

It’s as if, with this movie, the director is saying, “I’m Michael Bay, and I’m going to get away with cinematic murder! You will buy the toys! You will swill Bud Light out of those wacky blue aluminum things! You will leer along with me at this girl’s ass in slow motion! I AM MICHAEL BAY!”

For starters, this damn movie is two hours and 45 minutes long. I’m OK with long movies when they’re at least decent. This thing has no right for a single tick past the 90-minute mark. Had Bay knocked it off with his slo-mo shots, he probably could’ve shaved a half-hour. Had he gotten rid of every inane line in this donkey shit, he could’ve brought the whole thing in at 30 minutes.

Replacing Shia LaBeouf, who was too busy losing his mind to participate, would be Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a crazy robot-inventor living on a farm with his smoking-hot daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz).

In between stints trying to make clunky robots (there’s actually a sequence during which Wahlberg lovingly tries to show a newborn robot how to paint), Cade is busy trying to stop his daughter from having sex. He also threatens real-estate agents, showing his soon-to-be-foreclosed-upon property by chasing them with a baseball bat. He, simply put, is the worst movie father in years.

The action picks up four years after the annihilation of Chicago, which has apparently been restored, because Bay includes shots of some cranes picking up beams and stuff. The Autobots are on the run, because Frasier Harold (Kelsey Grammer) has decided that since they are aliens, they are the enemy. Michael Bay is getting political!

Yeager buys a beat-up truck, and soon discovers it is Optimus Prime. He nurses the robot back to health with the help of buddy Lucas (T.J. Miller), much to the chagrin of Tessa, who trolls about pouting while wearing impossibly tight denim shorts and high heels. She’s upset, and she’s going to look damn good being upset.

A black-ops government team commanded by Frasier eventually winds up on Yeager’s lawn, and one of the only reasons to watch this movie is killed off. The focus, if you can call it that, then goes to Stanley Tucci as Joshua, a Steve Jobs-like tech mogul, and his army of Autobot clones.

The real Autobots will eventually face off against the fake Autobots, and we’ll see ads for Chevy cars, beer, China, denim ass porn and Texas along the incredibly long way. (During the film’s running time, I celebrated five birthdays, took an online computer course in psychology that I failed because the professor was such a bitch, and managed to construct a scale replica of the Brooklyn Bridge using toothpicks and Dots candy. That was just during the first third!)

The Transformers themselves are looking cool, especially when they transform (although Bay, even with his mega-budget, cuts corners by showing an Autobot in one shot, and then the vehicle in the next—skipping the transformation). There’s also a sequence in which some characters have to walk on a high wire between an alien ship and a skyscraper that is pretty good.

That’s about all of the nice stuff I can say.

Bay is saying this is the first film in a new trilogy. If you should choose to see part one, make sure all of your bills are paid; the dogs are fed; and you’ve winter-proofed your house before you sit down, because you aren’t getting out of that theater for a very long time.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews