If I were to list the cast of Pasha Patriki’s Black Water, which includes Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, things would probably crystallize as some forlorn 1992 direct-to-video classic being revived by the Alamo Drafthouse or the Toronto International Film Festival and its “Midnight Madness” series. But rest assured, this is a film produced and released in 2018.
And things certainly wouldn’t become clearer when I describe Black Water as a shoot-em-up that takes place mostly on a submarine between framed good guy Van Damme and a series of military baddies intent on killing him and covering up their plot for world domination. Never mind the fact one rarely sees the ceilings within the submarine and that bullets are sprayed frequently and indeterminately without any real stress on a mechanized floating vessel miles beneath the ocean surface. Also, never mind that Van Damme is paired with a tough-as-nails and beautiful fellow soldier Cassie (Jasmine Waltz), who slowly enlists to his point of view once the mayhem begins. These are attributes that firmly ensconce Black Water as something that acknowledges its B-movie charm while attempting to succeed as a modern day ‘actioner’ with two of yesteryear’s biggest names … and it does just that.
Of the two “big stars,” Van Damme is serviceable in his role as a military operative aptly named Wheeler who’s framed by someone and then thrown into an unofficial CIA prison housed on the submarine. But the biggest surprise resides with Lundgren, who gives a coolly laconic performance as Marco, the prisoner next door who Wheeler wakes up next to and eventually comes to help when the action explodes. Given a shadowy background and perfect timing as the deadly accomplice to Van Damme (but considerably less screen time), Lundgren’s performance here makes one yearn for a JCVD (2008) type of meta-experiment to expand and contract his essential on-screen persona since the mid-1980s. We’re long overdue for that.
Beyond Lundgren’s outsized presence here, Black Water gets plenty of other bombastic things right. This is the type of film that glorifies a submarine’s red siren lights to mask an entire scene in their bloody hue. This is the type of film that stoically follows a line of SUV’s overhead down a dirt road and instead of having them avoid the puddles, they careen right through them for effect. And it’s certainly the type of film that clearly (and gleefully) wallows in a series of double and triple crosses that keeps one guessing as to the loyalty of every character introduced.
As a veteran cinematographer, first time director Pashiki understands exactly what he wants to deliver with Black Water. It’s not exactly brain-dead cinema, but it is a film with a simple dedication to brawny movies that are still made but rarely nail the affectionate attachment some of us still have for this style of genre.
Black Water opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, June 29 at the AMC Irving 10.