Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"The Gentleman" Review

The interest surrounding British director Guy Ritchie's return to the gangster movie genre of his beginnings with The Gentlemen stems from the bizarre path his career has taken. After the one-two punches of his feature debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (remembered as the one where Brad Pitt has the incomprehensible Irish accent), he fell under the spell of aging pop singer/succubus Madonna with whom he collaborated on producing a son and directing a near-career-ending remake of Swept Away, earning Razzie nominations.

After a pair of exceedingly mediocre attempts to get his gangster back on with Revolver and RocknRolla (after which I demanded his career be ended), he lucked back into relevance with the post-Iron Man hot Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film and its sequel, following with the lackluster The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

2017 saw him blow up his career again with the trailer-so-awful-I-had-zero-interest-in-seeing-it King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a flop so massive it caused a planned five sequels - who plans on making six movies before the first one has proven itself? - to be scrapped. It appeared he'd finally be done for but no! For some reason Disney hired him to helm the 2019 live-action cash grab of Aladdin(!?) with Will Smith.

Which brings us to The Gentlemen, his first original work in over a decade and returning to his old British crime ensemble territory for a splashy, kicky, snappy, snazzy, and incredibly self-satisfied and ultimately meaningless exercise. It manages to be well-done in almost every way while being disposable and banal.

Built around the framing device of sleazy tabloid freelancer Fletcher (Hugh Grant, clearly looking to assume Michael Caine's old go-to position since Caine is pushing 90 and mostly only works for Christopher Nolan these days) attempting to explain to Ray (Charlie Hunnam) why Ray's boss Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) should pay him £20 million to not publish his reporting, we're introduced to Mickey's world.

A poor trailer trash American, he somehow won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. While attending and earning a horticulture degree, he became a weed dealer. Coming up with an elaborate and clever method of farming his crops in a small country like England with little way to not have it discovered and distributing it, he has become extremely wealthy and ensconced in British high society, partially because he's paying cash-strapped aristocrats for the use of their estates as grow sites.

But he's grown tired of the grind and has decided to sell his operation for $400 million to a fellow American (Jeremy Strong) and retire with his wife (Michelle Dockery). But other parties are interested in making bids or conducting an extremely hostile takeover, foremost of whom is Dry Eye (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians, whose presence piqued my girlfriend's interest and she fell asleep early on), a hot-headed Chinese gangster whose nickname is never explained. Add in a gang of breakdancing rapping thugs called The Toddlers who rob one of Mickey's grow sites to the chagrin of their home gym's owner, Coach (Colin Farrell), a sleazy tabloid publisher, the smack addict daughter of a lord, Russian gangsters, and a snazzy table/foot warmer/barbecue and you have the makings of a crackin' good romp.

The problem is that Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, is both overcompensating and seems immensely self-satisfied with just how colorful everyone is. (I could imagine him typing the script with one hand while the other congratulates him on how wonderful he's doing if I was a cruel person.) Right out of the gate as Grant spits out reams of purple dialog it becomes clear that The Gentlemen is going to be one of those kind of movies; the kind which dazzles the rubes with twisty-turny wibbly-wobbly stories jam-packed with characters who are mostly caricatures and verbose dialog which implies ownership of a thesaurus and little more.

The thing is, very little about The Gentlemen in isolation is subpar. The performances are lively, the action is clear, the production quality quite rich, and until it makes a couple of excessive final turns leading to a dead end up its own arse, the knotty plot is fun. But the overall effect is like watching a mime pretending to walk into the 150 mph winds of a  hurricane, expending massive effort, but going absolutely nowhere. The final meta scene with Fletcher pitching the story we watched as a screenplay to Guy Ritchie himself is an onanistic finale which I always suspected it was heading towards from the start.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Blumhouse's Fantasy Island" Review

When the trailer for what appeared to be the latest imagination-bereft rehash of an old television show that most younger moviegoers never watched (while Hervé Villechaize croaking, "Thee plaaane! Thee plaaaane!" is part of the common cultural shared reference bank, who remembers much about it and doesn't confuse it for The Love Boat? ) and the Generation X moviegoers probably wouldn't trek to a theater for (think: Charlie's Angels 2019 version with Kristin Stewart vs. the far superior 2000 version with Cameron Diaz) dropped, I rolled my eyes. "Who asked for a Fantasy Island movie?" I wondered. Then I watched it and realized that money-printing horror studio Blumhouse had given it a distinctively darker horror spin (as well as prefixing the title with their moniker.)

Following the old show's format a seaplane delivers guests the the tropical paradise presided over by the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña). This Very Special Episode's guests includes a young woman (Lucy Hale) whose fantasy is to get revenge on her high school bully (Portia Doubleday); a businesswoman (Maggie Q) who rejected a marriage proposal and wants a do-over; a cop (Austin Stowell) who wants to join the military to honor his dead war hero father who died when he was a child; and a pair of step-brothers (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) who want the fantasy of having it all and living a large party lifestyle.

With a final warning that all fantasies must play out to their natural conclusion, Rourke sets the guests off on their fantasies. Q says yes to her suitor (Robbie Jones) and wakes up with it seemingly five years later and they have the little girl she'd always dreamed of. The brothers have a PG-13-rated rager (the teen-friendly rating means they're plenty of bimbos, but no nudity; there's also little gore and one obligatory F-bomb) in their own party mansion with a safe room and armory.

But things turn darker when the cop finds himself immediately captured by soldiers and discovering they are from the unit his father sacrificed his life to save which he is also leading on that fateful mission. The real tipoff is Hale's fantasy, where she first believes she's simulating torturing her tormenter as a hologram before realizing the real girl is being hurt and she ultimately acts to liberate her.

As they escape, they are themselves saved from one of those Unstoppable Killing Machine guys by a grizzled Michael Rooker, who's been watching the various islanders from the shadows. He explains why he's on the island and shows them its true dark secret power.

As various fantasy scenarios turn more dangerous, one guest demands a new fantasy, one which seeks to undo the regret that spawned their original fantasy's basis. Rourke reluctantly allows it and we gradually realize what connects all of the visitors and how they all ended up in this group.

While it's not a pinnacle of cinema, I had a decent time with Fantasy Island. The cast is fun and attractive, there are some smart laughs, and while the horror and gore is muted by the rating, it actually exceeded my modest expectations, especially considering how director Jeff Wadlow's previous Blumhouse joint also starring Hale, Truth or Dare, was only so-so; something passable because we'd snuck into it. (He also directed Kick-Ass 2, which managed to kill that franchise by being too mean-spirited even with its edgy milieu.) Even with the twists, it's a little predictable, but again we're not comparing it to Lawrence of Arabia.

Looking at how it was killed by the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, I have a suspicion that they didn't remember how the original show went. I hadn't either, but my girlfriend remarked afterwards how the movie was just like the show in that everyone's fantasies always turned ironic on them.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Banksy Does New York" Review

In October 2013, notorious and anonymous British street artist Banksy did a month-long "residency" in New York City, creating a unique piece of art every day, leaving cryptic hints as to its location and providing audio commentaries for select pieces (which sound like an American performed them). The excitement surrounding this event is captured in Banksy Does New York which is available on HBO GO/NOW. (Also on YouTune, see below.)

This immediate prompted a mad rush for "Banksy hunters" to rush and locate and photograph the works before they were destroyed (some businesses painted them over), defaced (jealous graffiti artists tag over them), or sometimes cut out and hauled away. Enterprising street hustlers covered one piece with cardboard and charged spectators for them to remove it so they could see and photograph it.

One day's stunt was hiring an old man to sell small signed original spray pieces (spraypainted onto canvases with stencils) from a booth in Central Park for $60, only revealing what he'd done the next day. There was no sign indicating what they were, though anyone familiar with Banksy would've recognized his style. The film documents some of the purchasers ranging from a woman who bought a couple for her children, but only after haggling a 50% discount, to a man who bought four to hang in his new Chicago home which needed something for the walls. The total sales for the day were $420 and each piece was worth an estimated $250,000 on the market!

Another bit of stunning generosity came in the form of a painting that had been bought from a charity shop which funded homes for HIV+ people for $50. Banksy added additional elements, signed it, and had it slipped back into the shop a couple weeks later upon which he announced it was hanging there. It was immediately put up for auction and raised over $600,000 for the charity.

Some pieces were whimsical, some surprisingly dark and political, some as simple as a quit spray on a wall while others involved massive installations which somehow got put up without anyone noticing until its unveiling. ( One day's art was "cancelled due to police activity.") All of this is documented by social media videos, Twitter posts commenting on it, and post-event interviews with art critics and writers and Banksy fans. (One pair which keeps popping up is this weird and annoying couple who look like the real-life version of the rom-com trope about high school losers who agree to marry each other if they can't meet anyone in 10 years.)

There is also some discussion about the tension between the "graffiti is art/graffiti is vandalism" sides and the high dollar world of art galleries who have removed Banksy's works and sold them for many monies. One dealer, who looks like a stereotypical art culture vulture who fancies himself a Bond villain, is shown examining a large cinder block Sphinx which a trio of Latino garage workers hauled away and stashed in their grandmother's garage. They'd turned down a $50,000 offer when they took it and agree to have Mr. Art Guy handle its sale. (As far as I can see, it still hasn't sold, so they're not rich.)

I find a lot of what's called "art" these days to be post-modernist garbage with no technique or skill required other than writing a brief Leftist political manifesto on the placard. It used to require years of training and practice in disciplines like drawing, painting, light, color, etc. Now it's low-effort nonsense with no purpose but to shock the squares.

But I like Banksy because, unlike Andy Warhol who ended up making himself the brand with his signature look and mien, his work is usually instantly identifiable (which is probably why the Sphinx hasn't sold; it looks too different) and he seems to have a perspective on what he's doing and what it means. That he does it from the shadows forces the focus on the art and as Banksy Does New York shows, it's how people react to his art that becomes part of the experience itself.

Briskly-paced - cramming 30 pieces into a less than 80 minutes necessitates that - and fascinating, Banksy Does New York is a must-watch for his fans and it's also a good introduction for those unfamiliar with his style and method.

Score: 8.5/10. Watch it on HBO.

If you don't have HBO (or someone's password), here it is in SD.

"The Rhythm Section" Review

It's a mark of bad marketing when the first hint you have of a movie's existence is a TV commercial about a week before its opening. My girlfriend and I were watching Saturday Night Live at our respective domiciles and texting during the commercials and I glimpsed the end of an ad for The Rhythm Section featuring a short dark-haired Blake Lively staggering away from an explosion scene. "What the heck was that?" I texted. She hadn't been paying attention.

Later I looked it up and found it was some sort of revenge spy thriller whose opaque title referred to controlling one's "rhythm section", thinking of your heartbeat as the drums and breathing as the bass, to focus on the target when shooting. It's a dopey metaphor, but spy novels gotta spy novel. (It's based on a book whose author penned the screenplay.)

Lively plays an English woman whose entire family, parents and two siblings died in a plane crash. We see their idyllic lives during the opening credits which makes our next look at her all the more jarring when we see she's spent the three years since the crash plunged into the hell of being a drug-addicted prostitute. This time though her john (Raza Jeffrey) is only looking to talk; he's a freelance reporter who tells her the crash was actually a bombing that had been covered up.

Despite initially having him  tossed out of the brothel, she later contacts him and goes to his apartment where he has a room covered in photos of the crash victims and stacks of documents he says came from an ex-MI-6 agent code-named "B" pointing to the bomb being the work of a local college student. Acquiring a pistol from her drug dealer, she quickly locates the student in the cafeteria, but chickens out on killing him. He somehow managed to grab her bag and with the information inside, finds the reporter and kills him.

With no other options available, she goes to Scotland in search of B (Jude Law) and once she finds him, he grudgingly agrees to train her and after eight months she's ready for her first mission, to kill a man in Tangier who was involved in arranging the bomb to be on the flight.

Now this is where most movies would have Lively montage herself into a formidable killing machine a la Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Angelina Jolie in numerous action epics, or Anne Parillaud/Bridget Fonda/Maggie Q in La Femme Nikita/Point of No Return/Nikita, but instead she rather sucks at pretty much everything; getting beaten badly, chickening out because she can't bring herself to kill (except for one moment where she's suddenly Annie Oakley gunfighting like a champ) and relying on luck or outside intervention for most kills.

Lively has really come on in recent years as an actress, outgrowing her simpy late-teen ingenue image from Gossip Girl with her deglamed performance here, in 2016's solo girl-vs-shark The Shallows, and especially her crackling turn in 2018's trash-camp blast A Simple Favor (a must for fans of movies like Wild Things). She's smartly realized that passing 30 years of age requires transitioning from girlie parts to adult acting and she's got the chops; she's just let down by the material here.

While director Reed Morano (most noted for the first three episodes of The Handmaid's Tale) does a good job directing the globe-trotting action and drama with style and clarity - there's a "one-shot" car chase sequence which is pretty sharp - the whole endeavor is undercut by Mark Burnell's script. While spy stories are supposed to have twists, double-crosses, third-act reveals and whatnot, things get simply too convoluted and confusing with one character, an ex-CIA agent turned information broker (Sterling K. Brown) who should know everything about who he's dealing with seemingly bamboozled by her meager ruse as a presumed dead Russian assassin.

Once again, a poorly reasoned script makes everything disposable. If not for Lively's performance, I'd probably knock a couple points off and make this a skip.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Gretel & Hansel" Review

The Brothers Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel has been told many times in many forms since its publication in 1812, most recently in the campy action-horror take of 2013's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters where the grown-up siblings are butt-kicking witch hunters for hire. But the tale takes a bit of a twist in its latest incarnation, the title-flipped and moody Gretel & Hansel.

Set in an unspecified Medieval time and place, this take begins with the telling of a little girl born in a village who took ill as a baby. The father took her to an enchantress who removed the illness, but gave the power of foresight to the girl. While the villagers initially liked having a seer in their midst, she started to use her power to kill, including her father, which earned her a trip to the woods to be abandoned and become a fairy tale.

Then we meet Gretel (Sophia Lillis, IT, I Am Not Okay With This) and Hansel (newcomer Sam Leaky) as they go to seek employment with a wealthy landowner who seems more interested in Gretel's virginity than other skills. They flee back home to their mother, who in her poverty and madness banishes them to go find someplace else to live and fend for themselves, which could be difficult for children who look to be about 14 and 8.

After a run-in with some unexplained ghoul from which they're saved by a huntsman, he gives them directions to where they may find work and home a couple days away. Along the way they encounter a home deep in the woods. Starving, they peer in the windows and see a great feast on the table and let themselves in, soon making the acquaintance of an old woman (Alice Krige, the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact) who anyone familiar with the story isn't what she appears.

The new angle Gretel & Hansel takes is to focus on Gretel's incipient witchcraft powers, which the Witch encourages her to develop, offering her access to her grimoire. While Hansel enjoys the good food which mysteriously appears and playing at cutting down trees, Gretel is suspicious and as her powers grow, she becomes concerned about what that could do to her; will they make her evil?

It's a common knock on films that they're style over substance and unfortunately that's what makes Gretel & Hansel difficult to recommend. On the plus side, it looks amazing. Director Oz Perkins and cinematographer Galo Olivares (in only his 2nd feature, he's definitely one to watch) immediately set a lush, rich, moody tone of a bleak world painted in colored light. The compositions feel like cousins to Kubrick or Bergman films and there's a very European vibe though Perkins is American and Olivares is Mexican.

The performances are also fine; Lillis is definitely on a tear and was only 16 when this was filmed. But the plot itself is extremely thin and unsubstantial and when the reveals occur, they actually confuse more than clarify. Despite a brief 87-minute run time, it still feels slack, empty, and not particularly scary while lovely to look at. I'm not sure if they were trying to make some feminist statement about how women in Medieval times weren't exactly equals, because if there was a little boy killing people in his village, he probably would've found himself dumped in the woods, too.

Overall, Gretel & Hansel is a meandering trip through the woods with no particular destination in mind despite being a fine scenic trip.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Bloodshot" Review

With the Pepsi and Coke of comic book companies tied to their respective film studio masters, Disney (who owns Marvel titles) and Warner Bros. (DC), anyone else looking to make movies based on funny books needs to sift through the various indie publishers and thus we have Bloodshot, based on a Valiant Comics character whom I'd never heard of, same as the publisher. Intended to be a potential new franchise for Vin Diesel, it had the twin misfortunes of opening on the last weekend of 2020 before the Wuhan coronavirus shut down the world, effectively making its theatrical run only a few days - it was rushed to digital within two weeks - and also not being very good. It's not exactly BAD bad, but it's definitely not good.

Diesel plays Ray Garrison, a Marine who we meet on the job killing bad guys in Mombasa, Kenya. Returning to base he's reunited with his wife Gina (Talulah Riley) and they head off to vacation in Italy. There they are kidnapped by comic book-named villain Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell), who demands Ray tell him who provided the intel for the Mombasa operation. Ray doesn't know, but Axe kills Gina and then Ray. Shortest. Movie. Ever.

Nope, he wakes up in a lab at Rising Spirit Tech, where founder Dr. Harting (Guy Pearce) informs him he'd died, but had been resurrected by nanite technology in his blood which gives him incredible strength and healing skills. (He's RoboCop and Wolverine now.) Initially having amnesia, he starts to have flashbacks from his life, remembers his wife's murder, leading him to break out of RST and using the nanites ability to connect to the Internet (now he's The Lawnmower Man) and track Axe down and kill him. Very short movie at 35 minutes long.

Oh wait, it's not over at the end of what turns out to be only the first act. Here comes the twist: It turns out that Ray's memories of Gina's death are fake, a computer simulation implanted to fuel Ray's need for revenge against the perceived perpetrators, who are actually Harting's former business partners whom he is bumping off in order to bring his super-soldier project to market himself.

Naturally, Ray doesn't like being made into a puppet, so he teams up with hot ex-Navy diver KT (Eiza González), who has bionic lungs thanks to RST, to take down Harting. Still loyal to the boss are a pair of also-enhanced bruisers, one with robot legs (and later an exoskeleton) and another who was blinded, but has an array of cameras on a vest providing vision. Hijinks ensue.

Rookie director David S. F. Wilson shamelessly apes Michael Bay with some shots in spots (you'll spot them if you see this) and some frames are clearly translated from comic panels, but Bloodshot is generally anemic with a rote Evil Corporate Guy Making Soldiers of Mass Destruction plot - co-written by Jeff Wadlow (a lot of mediocre horror flicks) and Eric Heisserer (probably hired to rewrite; has a better CV and an Oscar-nomination for Arrival) - and unimpressive visual effects.

Diesel doesn't exactly phone in her performance - he hasn't reached Bruce Willis level apathy...yet - but with few exceptions doesn't really do much other than be Vin Diesel. The other performances are adequate with the exception of Lamorne Morris as an amusing uber-hacker who helps Ray counteract the control Harting normally has over the nanites.

 Overall I was bored by Bloodshot. It just looks and feels second-rate with this supposedly sinister corporation seemingly having a handful of employees and the ropey VFX not being up to snuff these days. Movies like this used to fall under the "not bad if you're stuck inside on a rainy day flipping channels" category, but even by that lowered standard, there's not enough to really recommend spending  the time.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Vivarium" Review

A vivarium is defined as "an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or study or as pets." It's also the title of an odd fantasy drama starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a young couple in England or Ireland (it's not specified; nor is how American Eisenberg landed there) who decide to go house hunting and find themselves trapped in a literal forever home. (The definition at the beginning of this review is a huge hint as to what happens.)

After stopping in an office displaying models of the homes on offer, which all look the same, they follow the very oddly-mannered salesman (Jonathan Aris) to Yonder, a subdivision with very suspiciously identical houses. While cookie cutter subdivisions are a long-running thing, Yonder is next level artificial. After a tour of the house with #9 on the door and an a nursery already painted blue for a boy, the couple find their guide has disappeared, leaving them behind. They attempt to leave the sub, but repeatedly find themselves looping back around to #9 eventually running out of gas after driving until after dark.

After staying the night, they climb up on the roof and discover the neighborhood sprawls as far as they can see, one identical row after another. The Sun seems artificial and the clouds are unnaturally uniform. They decide to follow the Sun, climbing over fence after fence (why not use the roads?), in hopes of eventually finding the end of Yonder, but as with their attempt to drive, they end up right back where they began at #9. This time however, there is a box waiting in the street filled with packaged food and toiletries.

A frustrated Eisenberg proceeds to set the house on fire and while they watch it burn from the curb across the street, they fall asleep. When they awake, they find the house is unscathed and another box awaits them. This one contains a baby boy and a note printed on the lid: "Raise the child and be released." We next see the boy being measured against the door frame and while the mark is dated three months later, the boy looks to be about eight-years-old.

In addition to being unnaturally large, the child mimics them or speaks in an adult voice. Other times he shrieks tot bully them into catering to his whims. When he watches television, it's a psychedelic monochrome flashing pattern. Of course, all this weirdness and confinement takes a massive toll on their relationship with him become obsessed with digging a very deep hole in the front lawn, unearthing some non-dirt artificial material, while she attempts to figure out what exactly they're raising.

While the initial scenario of Vivarium piques the interest, it's not long before one starts to wonder where this is all going and what's it supposed to mean? While merely 97-minutes-long, it feels very drawn out and repetitive; it feels as if it could've been if not a half-hour classic Twilight Zone episode, a sub-hour-long Black Mirror installment. Once the premise is set, we're just waiting for it to pay off.

It eventually resolves in a manner that explains the opening nature film passage involving the life cycle of cuckoos, but it's not as much of a twist as it clearly thinks it is as we're too bored to really care in the end.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Underwater" Review

Studios making competing movies with similar themes happens from time to time, resulting in situations like dueling volcano movies (Dante's Peak and Volcano) or big celestial something about to destroy Earth movies (Armageddon and Deep Impact).

But 1989 was special in that there were three "something happening at the bottom of the ocean" movies released: Leviathan, DeepStar Six, and the Big One that the other two raced to beat to theaters, James Cameron's follow-up to Aliens, The Abyss. (Which STILL has never received a proper home video release.) Arriving three decades later (and a year-and-a-half after the similarly-themed monster shark movie The Meg due to the film languishing on the shelf after filming in 2017, which is why T.J. Miller is present back when he still had a career), comes the blah-titled Underwater.

Starring a buzzcut Kristen Stewart as a mechanical engineer at a drilling installation at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean where these movies are invariably set, the movie gets going almost immediately with a literal bang as what feels like an earthquake triggers a catastrophic collapse of the station. She is barely able to close a bulkhead in time to prevent total disaster, but has to condemn a pair of random workers to an instant death as they raced to safety.

Along with another survivor who may as well be wearing a red shirt (Mamoudou Athie), they proceed through the wreckage to reach escape pods, meeting along the way a trapped worker (T.J. Miller, playing the T.J. Miller part he always plays), the Captain of the rig (Vincent Cassel), a biologist (Jessica Henwick) and her engineer boyfriend (John Gallagher, Jr.).

With all the escape pods gone, communications with the surface cut, and the rig's nuclear reactor damaged and 30 minutes away from overloading and exploding, they need to get the heck out of there. Cassel's plan is to get to the ocean floor, traverse a tunnel to a sub-station, then walk a mile in pitch dark to another drill site where they should find escape pods. Along the way, they discover Something Is Down Here With Us which adds an extra layer of tension because visibility is almost nil and thus your first clue that a monster is about to get you is a monster getting you.

There are two competing aspects to Underwater which simultaneously elevate it above B-movie level and also sink it. On the plus side, the production design of the film is excellent, especially the dive suits which look like something out of the StarCraft games. The various installation environments look legitimately industrial and used.

The visual effects are also believable. Unlike The Abyss, which was actually filmed underwater in an abandoned nuclear power plant cooling tower, Underwater was shot on soundstages with the actors in dive helmets without glass and everything rendered with CGI. Granted, it's murky water and darkness with a little cheating for lighting, but it looks good.

Director Williams Eubank maintains a heart-pounding sense of tension and menace, reinforced by a booming sound design that really gives your home theater subwoofer(s) something to work with. (Thus the dual when-to-see recommendations below.)

That said, all the surface excellence is in service of an overly familiar plot and tissue thin characters who barely rise above caricature due to the story's structure. The opening scene is Stewart brushing her teeth in a locker room while her narration refers to something someone told her that has no bearing on anything and we don't know who that person is/was to her. She rescues a Daddy Longlegs spider that's somehow down there and then BAM!!! the station implodes and we're off to the races.

I hadn't seen the trailer below before now and it's gives a misleading impression that we get to know the characters before the accident, like how we meet the crew of the Nostromo in Alien before they go down to the planet. In reality, the trailer clips together moments from the journey and our introductions. Because we're always on the move, there is no time to develop anyone minimally, much less adequately. With no connection to any of these people, when they get knocked off by monsters or misfortune, we don't care. The only question is whether the Big Movie Star On The Poster is going to survive or not?

It seems as if the movie may've originally been longer and got hacked down to a tight 90 minutes at the cost of all coherency. When we meet Stewart, she's wearing glasses, but they're damaged and she never wears them again and seems to suffer no ill effects. She repeatedly presses on her sternum as if in pain, but it's never explained why and never impacts anything. Cassel had a daughter who died young and seems confused about it, but that never matters.

In a couple of scenes, recorded announcements are heard explaining the locations as if tourists would be visiting, which makes no sense. An opening title gives the crew compliment as over 300 workers, but including dead bodies and the two killed in the opening, there are only 10 people in the entire movie, so why in the end were there so few survivors when all the pods were gone? There's an obligatory "Evil corporation meddling with nature unleashing unknown horrors" smack, but it's such a stock trope, it's meaningless. It's as if a deeper-than-needed story and characters may've existed, but were edited away to just the core action.

But these are all details that you notice after watching Underwater. During your viewing, you're too busy holding your breath to really notice how skeletal everything else is. If you've got a good sound system, are down for a quick-and-dirty heavy metal thriller, and wouldn't mind seeing K.Stew running around like this for a chunk of the movie because more clothes wouldn't fit under the suits...

...then Underwater is a taut, but shallow (considering the depth it's set) popcorn flick.

Score: 6/10. Rent it if you've got the sound system, otherwise catch it on cable.

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