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(2020) (Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: Surviving members of a mostly destroyed undersea mining operation try to make their way to safety, but must contend with previously unknown deep-sea creatures hunting them down.
Norah Price (KRISTEN STEWART) is an engineer working on the Kepler deep-sea mining operation located more than six miles down in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean. Without notice, an earthquake strikes, causing part of the station to implode. Just she and coworker Rodrigo Nagenda (MAMOUDOU ATHIE) survive that, but do manage to save another worker, Paul Abel (T.J. MILLER), while making their way through the wreckage. They eventually meet up with Captain Lucien (VINCENT CASSEL) and two other survivors -- Emily Haversham (JESSICA HENWICK) and Liam Smith (JOHN GALLAGHER JR.) -- only to learn all of the escape pods are gone.

With no other option, and fully understanding the dangers of what he's going to suggest, Lucien proposes that they travel down to a lower level, make their way through a long tunnel, and then walk the rest of the way across the seafloor to another underwater facility where they'll hopefully find enough escape pods to reach the surface. But as they begin their journey, they discover that they're not alone, as previously unknown deep-sea creatures begin to hunt them down.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I love roller coasters and generally no longer have any apprehension about riding them like when I was a little kid. Even so, and as long as the wait isn't outrageous, I enjoy the build-up before things get serious. You know, moving like cattle through the queue, boarding the train and then the climb up the hill (with the old wooden coasters being the best with their added clack-clack-clack sound on the way to the peak).

All of that adds to the fun, and thus the question is whether you'd enjoy the experience as much if you could somehow suddenly just get into the train at the top of the hill and immediately go from there. The same can be said about movies, both inside certain scenes (such as Hitchcock's old bit about a sudden bomb explosion out of the blue vs. allowing the viewer to see the explosive beforehand) and the overall offering where things are set up before getting into the meat of the action.

For those who don't like such cinematic foreplay, I have a movie for you. While it's so far from original that it could be the poster child for the term "lack of originality," there's no denying that the sub-aquatic sci-fi action thriller "Underwater" gets to the point almost immediately. Any and all exposition is carried out in the opening credits where we see brief clips and headlines about a drilling operation being more than six miles down in the Mariana Trench, the inherent dangers of that, and something about sightings of some strange things way down there.

We then see Kristen Stewart in her bra sporting a buzz cut and saving a spider from being washed down her sink while brushing her teeth. In an ever-so-brief bit of voice-over dialogue, she briefly explains the benefits of cynicism and then notices a leak from the ceiling. Before she can make any sort of quip about what a plumber would cost that far below the surface, the leak ruptures, the place starts imploding and Stewart's engineer character starts running.

She and a coworker (Mamoudou Athie) manage to survive (but hundreds more don't), rescue another survivor along the way (T.J. Miller) and then find just three more survivors (played by Jessica Newick, John Gallagher Ur., and Vincent Cassel as the man in charge). With the escape pods all gone, an energy source meltdown about to occur, and the overall place facing a conclusive master implosion, the survivors must try to make their way to another part of the vast undersea mining operation.

Oh, did I mention that will include having to walk across the sea bottom where pressure levels can and will crush most everything except for the sea life down there? And that some of the latter just so happens to now include some monster type critters hankering for some human food?

That's basically it in the stripped-down plot from scribes Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad who borrow heavily from the "Alien/Aliens" playbook, rip off a lot from "The Abyss" and have everything play out in the same arena as any number of other deep-sea monster movies. It's certainly efficient and the 95-minute runtime flies by. But director William Eubank is no James Cameron (the director of the aforementioned flicks) and thus while it's lean and mean and delivers a few jolts and scares along the way, it's nowhere as thrilling, captivating or engaging as the films from which it so liberally lifts its material.

While it's odd seeing Miller appearing in any flick (given his recent spate of run-ins with the law) and Cassel is dependable as ever, this is Stewart's baby and she gives it her all (even when being forced to run around in her skivvies, another element ripped off from "Alien" apparently without understanding the symbolism of why Sigourney Weaver's character ended up that way). Here, it feels like nothing more than titillation.

If you like that sort of thing and movies that jump right in and get straight to the point, you might enjoy taking the plunge with this no-frills, straightforward monster movie. I enjoyed this underwater roller coaster ride for a while, but the lack of any reason to care about any of the characters coupled with all of the material stolen from similar if infinitely far better films eventually leaves everything feeling waterlogged and wrinkly. "Underwater" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 8, 2020 / Posted January 10, 2020

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