As Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water and Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm vividly illustrated, bad things happen when three attractive people are stuck on a boat together. The main characters in Chris Helton’s thriller set on the open sea apparently haven’t learned that lesson, much to their detriment and that of audiences lured into seeing Dead Water by the presence of B-movie stalwarts Casper Van Dien and Judd Nelson.
The former plays John, a well-heeled orthopedic surgeon whose best friend, “Coop” (Griff Furst), is an Afghan war veteran who, based on his surly reaction to a bartender offering him a free drink as a sign of respect, is still clearly feeling the emotional aftereffects of his battle experiences. The volatile Coop also doesn’t hesitate to pick a fight with two strangers at the bar who’ve made the mistake of making lewd comments about his beautiful news reporter wife Vivian (Brianne Davis) when she appears on television.
The gregarious, hard-drinking John suggests that Coop and Vivian join him on his yacht for a weekend cruise to the Virgin Islands. It won’t take long for viewers to guess that things are not going to go well, especially when John exclaims “Nothing but open water!” as soon as the boat, ominously named “Usual Suspects,” leaves shore and he then ogles the sunbathing Vivian.
And indeed, things don’t go well, although in the most tedious of ways for a good portion of the film’s running time. The two men get into heated discussions about Coop’s military service, and John spies on his guests having sex. The macho gamesmanship escalates during a game of “Truth or Dare” (not an activity that anyone past their teens is likely to engage in, but whatever), especially when John wants Coop to tell the truth about whether or not he killed anyone in Afghanistan and John dares him to kiss Vivian.
It isn’t until nearly an hour into the film, when the boat’s engine mysteriously dies, that the thriller elements kick in. Coop sets off in a dinghy in search of help and comes across a boat manned by a sole occupant (Nelson) whose heavy beard and nasty gash over one eye instantly signify he won’t turn out to be a good Samaritan.
The ensuing plot twists in Jason Usry’s screenplay aren’t nearly as surprising as they aspire to be. And the attempts at punchy, ironic dialogue — such as the bad guy sneering, “That’s It? You’re just a one-bullet Marine?” when Coop seems to be dead after being shot once — smack of artificiality.
It’s no spoiler alert to report that Coop is indeed not dead. Indeed, several of the characters display a remarkable ability to recover from gunshot wounds, a trait that helps elongate the proceedings to the necessary feature-length running time. The climactic violent sequences have little to no suspense, with director Helton seemingly unable to stage the action in effective fashion.
None of the performers are able to bring life to their schematic characters, although Nelson appears to be having fun as a modern-day pirate. You do get the feeling, however, that he would have much preferred to play the role with a patch on his eye and a parrot on his shoulder.
Production: Silver Line Films
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Brianne Davis, Griff Furst, Judd Nelson
Director: Chris Helton
Screenwriter: Jason Usry
Producers: Mark Andrews, Chris Helton, Ritchie G. Piert Sr.
Executive producer: Chris Sterger
Director of photography: Josh Pickering
Editors: Brock Bodell, Daniel R. Perry
Composer: John Avarese
Casting: Arlie Day
Rated R, 92 minutes