'Black Water': Film Review

All wet.

Jean-Claude Van Damme gets imprisoned on a submarine in Pasha Patriki's actioner.

Deceptively billed as a team-up for frequent action-flick co-stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, Pasha Patriki's Black Water is actually a starring vehicle for the former that keeps the latter locked in a prison cell, lest his gruff charisma overshadow one of the dullest Van Damme performances to date. Making very little hay out of its promising premise (the two actors occupy neighboring cells in a submarine prison), this derivative B movie is sure to disappoint fans of prior JCVD/Lundgren outings — which are an awfully low bar to hurdle.

After an opening scene in which CIA agent Wheeler (Van Damme) awakens in a mysterious jail cell and gets some advice from longtime prisoner Marco (Lundgren), the film exiles Lundgren until nearly the 80-minute mark, offering just a few cutaways to him in his cell to remind viewers he's there. We leap back in time to just before Wheeler's capture: In a cheap Alabama motel, he's making time with sometime lover, sometime partner Ballard (Courtney B. Turk). The latter looks young enough to be, if not Van Damme's granddaughter, then at least his granddaughter's former babysitter. But the pic presents her as a tough agent who dies in a heroic attempt to save one component of a Very Important Hard Drive.

Wheeler has the other part of the system safe — "I've got the dongle," as he puts it — which makes him a valuable prisoner to the FBI and CIA tough guys who take him into custody. The Bureau's Ferris (Patrick Kilpatrick) believes this deep-cover operative has gone rogue and is trying to sell secrets to America's enemies; the Agency's Rhodes (Al Sapienza) thinks he's clean. Both accompany him to the ultimate black site: a sub retrofitted to be a roving, escape-proof venue for Abu Ghraib-style interrogation.

The torture has barely begun when things fall apart, with some of the sub's crew turning violently on the others. Wheeler gets free from his captors, eventually winning the trust of Taylor (Jasmine Waltz, a model who's not a bit credible as an FBI agent). They sneak through the sub's passageways picking off bad guys and trying to take the vessel over. For a grand total of 14 minutes, they free Marco from his cage so he can fight alongside them. It would be a big overstatement to say the sluggish flick gets lively during those 14 minutes, but at least it's livelier.

The directing debut for cinematographer Patriki, Black Water lights many sections of the sub as if they were seedy corners of a nightclub, but still fails to produce the claustrophobic, trapped-in-a-tin-can vibe of a Das Boot or Crimson Tide. The latter is the most relevant comparison, and not just because one of Black Water's advertising posters is a direct rip-off of that film's: Here, too, thrills are supposed to derive from the confined clash of powerful men and their double-crossing allies. But the actors clashing here are, to be kind, less magnetic than Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, and Patriki's no Tony Scott.

Production company: Dawn's Light
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jasmine Waltz, Al Sapienza, Courtney B. Turk, John Posey, Kris Van Damme, Aaron O'Connell, Aleksander Vayshelboym
Director-director of photography: Pasha Patriki
Screenwriter: Chad Law
Producers: Jason Cherubini, Alexander Ferguson, Tyler W. Konney, Richard Switzer
Executive producers: David Allen, Chad Law, Pasha Patriki, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Production designer: Fernando Valdes
Costume designer: Ashley Nicole Allen
Composer: Spencer Creaghan

Rated R, 104 minutes